Comment: Two years of fighting for fairer school funding

It's been two years since the headteachers of Sussex got together to fight for fairer government funding for their schools. Here Jules White, head of Tanbridge House School, and driving force behind the Worth Less? school funding campaign describes how it happened and how things have progressed.

Thursday, 28th September 2017, 10:20 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 4:26 am
Jules White

"Almost two years ago to the day I was going home and started flicking through the evening radio programmes.

I came across Sarah Gorrell's Radio Sussex 'Drive' show. As she often does, Sarah was discussing local schooling and at the end of the piece quoted that well worn Government phrase, "we're spending more on education then ever before..."

It just struck a nerve.

Worth Less? campaign logo

True, more money was being was spent but there were far more pupils in our schools and costs of every description were soaring.

All schools were under pressure but frankly schools in other parts of England were much better off than us and had been for years and years.

My school was being financially asphyxiated and so were many more in West Sussex and beyond.

It was clear that children in our great local schools were deemed worth less than others and so a new phrase popped into my head and Worth Less? was born.

Crucially, the West Sussex County Times and its sister papers led the way and gave the issue fulsome coverage and fulsome support.

After all, the facts were indisputable; schools in West Sussex were victims of a postcode lottery which meant that pupils in our schools were receiving hundreds of thousands and in some cases millions of pounds less than schools in other parts of the country.

And so a strange odyssey began.

We banged the drum about fair and adequate funding louder and louder. The problems of huge class sizes and a shortage of teachers became better and more widely understood.

Peter Woodman put Piers Morgan firmly back in his box on live TV and family staples such as The One Show and Victoria Derbyshire highlighted the issues further. Heads took our case to Downing Street and local politicians further supported the cause.

Momentum gathered as the injustices were laid bare. Parents took note and took over. Their brilliant support was absolute and they helped our campaign - which begun to spread across the country - so much that the need to improve school funding became a key election issue.

Throughout it all we told that a new National Funding Formula (NFF) would be introduced and things would get better. And finally, just a week or so ago, NFF arrived.

The Government should be given credit for having the guts to introduce something that countless others have failed to do.

The formula is as complex as any fiendish GCSE maths question but sadly when it's unpicked there is no eureka moment.

The answer is, in fact, very bad indeed.

True, the very, very lowest funded schools in England like Tanbridge House have been given additional money.

From the lowest of starting points, we will receive an extra 6% next year and a further 4% in 2019/20. But a series of limits (caps) has meant that many schools who serve disadvantaged areas across our county will gain much smaller improvements.

Other relatively well funded schools in places like London will also receive a small guaranteed uplift.

Critically, the £1.3bn put back into school funding does not make up for the £1.7bn that is being taken out between 2015-20. This means that there is simply not enough money in the system to make the new formula work - hence the caps and limitations. NFF will not effectively close the gaps between the best and worst funded areas of England.

Our local schools will also be disproportionately hammered by rising costs that continue to obliterate any extra money allocated to our beleaguered budgets.

Don't take my word for it, please just ask The Department for Education. Or simply use their statistics as I do below.

A primary school of 400 pupils in Crawley, for example, will receive close to £500,000 less than the same sized school in Greenwich. Staggeringly, a secondary school of 1400 pupils in Worthing or Bognor will receive over £4million less that the same sized school in Hackney.

It's not that London shouldn't receive this money but our children should have the same advantages too. The formula was meant to ensure that schools in similar socio-economic areas receive similar levels of funding. They palpably will not under this new arrangement.

Our children will continue in classes of 30 and more whilst others will sit in classes of 20. Some deserving pupils in different parts of the country will gain support from three TAs in a class; pupils in West Sussex will not.

But at the end of the day every pupil in England will sit the same maths and English GCSEs upon which their futures can often depend. How is the fair or reasonable?

Ensuring that our nation lives within its mean is vital. But the only way to solve the funding crisis for our schools is for the Government to put back the £1.7 that it took from families and their children some time ago.

Worth Less? is still counting on everyone's support to ensure that it does."