A headteacher has warned schools may have to make staff redundant after the government postponed its pledge of a fairer funding system.
Justine Greening, secretary of state for education, announced the new system – called the national funding formula – would not come into effect until 2018/19, one year later than teachers had been promised.
West Sussex County Council receives the lowest funding level per pupil in the country and, with schools already struggling to balance their budgets, the news came as a bitter blow.
Michael Ferry, of St Wilfrid’s School, in Crawley, was one of the organisers of the Worth Less? campaign for fairer education funding, which was supported by every headteacher in the county.
Reacting to Ms Greening’s decision, he said: “What it undoubtedly means is that we will have to yet again tighten our belts.
“They are already pretty tight – they have had to be, and with uncertain economic times ahead and the likelihood that costs will continue to rise over the next two years, it will undoubtedly mean that as staff leave, some schools will have to consider not replacing them, which will impact on class sizes and upon the quality of lessons which can be delivered.
“The very worst case scenario is that schools may have to consider redundancies in order to be able to balance their budgets.”
The Worth Less? campaign was launched last year when headteachers revealed the county’s funding level – £40m per year less than the national average and £200m less than many London boroughs – had dragged school budgets down to crisis point.
Throughout the campaign, the council supported the call for fairer funding as well as a transitional payment to allow schools to make ends meet before the new formula came into play.
A spokesman said the authority was “very disappointed” and “frustrated” by Ms Greening’s decision, adding: “This places the local authority and its schools under very significant financial pressure.
“As the lowest funded shire authority, it means our schools are facing significant financial pressures potentially for an even longer period, which could affect the provision of good quality education in our communities.”
The spokesman urged the government to “think again” about the delay and added: “We will be writing to the secretary of state to urge her to take some positive action to address this funding inequality.”
Explaining her reasons for delaying the national funding formula, Ms Greening told MPs further consultation was needed.
She said responses to the initial consultation with teachers had shown a belief the funding plan was “a once-in-a-generation opportunity for an historic change”, adding “we must get our approach right”.
Ms Greening – whose Putney constituency is among the highest-funded in the country – said that in 2017/18 no local authority would see a reduction from their 2016/17 funding.
That point was of little comfort to headteachers all over West Sussex, and Mr Ferry urged teachers, students, parent and carers to write to their MPs asking them to urge Ms Greening to reconsider.
The county’s MPs –including Crawley’s Henry Smith, who has been appointed parliamentary private secretary to Ms Greening – have asked her to give “urgent consideration” to providing a “desperately needed” transitional payment.
The last such payment made amounted to less than £1million for the entire county – around £10 per child – and was described by heads as “a pittance”.
Horsham MP Jeremy Quin said he was “dismayed” by the funding delay and appealed to Ms Greening in the House of Commons to provide transitional funding.
Regarding the national funding formula, he said: “No one should underestimate the complexity of completely changing our school funding system to achieve this and it is important that the department get it right.”
Nick Herbert, MP for Arundel and South Downs, said he was pleased the government and Ms Greening “remain committed to fair funding for our schools” and added: “Obviously the case for transitional help for the worst-funded areas such as ours is now even stronger, and I will continue to work with my fellow West Sussex MPs to urge this step as strongly as possible with ministers.”
Mr Ferry said: “I’ve previously said that we are being asked to do more and more with less and less.
“This news really reinforces that notion – but the saddest thing, almost criminal in my opinion, is that the people who will really suffer are the students in West Sussex schools who will lose out in terms of the opportunities afforded to them in their schools.”
‘West Sussex children are being let down’
When Andy Murray won a remarkable second Wimbledon crown he thanked just about everyone on Centre Court including the then PM, David Cameron, writes Jules White, head of Tanbridge House School.
My job is “difficult,” the Scot said, “but nowhere near as hard as yours.”
And quite right too. I understand this and, on a minute scale, sometimes feel the same way too; running a school is quite challenging at times but it pales into insignificance when compared to organising Brexit or balancing the nation’s books.
On occasions though, government decisions are not good enough, especially when promises are broken.
Witness the announcement from the Secretary of State for education – Justine Greening – on the penultimate day of the school year.
Implementation of the much-needed fair funding formula for all schools up and down the country would be delayed by at least a year from April 2017 to April 2018.
Thanks to the Worth Less? campaign and the tremendous efforts of colleagues across West Sussex, the facts are well known.
An out-of-date funding formula means schools and academies in West Sussex are short changed by £40m each year against the national average and a staggering £200m annually when compared to many London boroughs.
Bluntly, our children are being disadvantaged in every area from teacher recruitment to teacher pupil ratios through to the basics such as IT equipment and text books.
The fact our schools – primary, special and secondary – are often so well managed means such financial disadvantage is being ‘hidden’ from view. But have no doubt, budgets are at breaking point and West Sussex children are being let down.
Last year the Worth Less? campaign acknowledged that time for a complicated new funding formula to be worked out was essential but we also made a reasonable request for interim funding to be made to help schools in West Sussex cope until a fairer system was put in place.
As such, we asked the minister for education – Sam Gyimah MP – for £20m to be shared across all schools and academies for 2016/17.
This represented just £200 per student across the county and would still have left our shire authority £20m worse off than the national average.
Our request was politely refused and we were told everything would be much better in April 2017 when the new formula was due to be implemented.
Against this background and further real-terms cuts to our budgets, Ms Greening made her announcement.
Schools in West Sussex cannot and should not be expected to soak this up again.
For the sake of fairness and our children’s educational future I hope that local politicians and MPs can place enough pressure on the government to ensure significant transitional funding arrangements are put in place for the coming financial year.
The prompt response from local MPs requesting an urgent meeting with the new minister is welcome starting point.
Schools and the children of West Sussex deserve decisive action to level the playing field and reduce the inequities of this manifestly unfair system as soon as possible.
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