Many heads are warning that the funding squeeze would force them to impose cuts and harm teaching standards. But other education leaders argue that schools are “in denial” and still have excess fat left to trim.
Tom Clark, chair of the Freedom and Autonomy for Schools National Association, said that schools in search of efficiencies often reached for the “low-hanging fruit” when looking for efficiencies, but “many schools must now re-examine their structures for the world as it is”.
For example, 12,000 schools had yet to become academies, some of which were “in denial” about their viability as standalone schools. This was despite some small single schools “struggling to provide a full curriculum”, he said.
But Mr Clark said the funding formula would create “perverse incentives” for some schools to retain inefficiencies. For example, the formula’s “sparsity factor”, aimed at rural schools, and the “lump sum” that disproportionately benefits small schools, could act as “perverse incentives for schools not to become academies or form [or] join multi-academy trusts (MATs)”.
Responding to funding concerns raised by a head at a recent Westminster Forum meeting in London, Clive Webster, chief executive of the Kent Catholic Schools Partnership, said: “While I take the point that schools have been making efficiency savings for a long time, the fact is that there is still more [to be done] there.
“I know that because of the schools I’ve worked with and what we’re doing.”
He added that “at the moment there is too much of any school’s budget that goes on staffing”; schools need to be “moving to a position where 70-75 per cent of their budget is on staffing instead of 80 per cent plus”, he added.
Andrew Thraves, Academies Enterprise Trust MAT trustee and director of education at school services supplier Prospects, said there were “absolutely” areas that schools could look at before cutting staff; one example would be clustering together to share stationery costs or even teachers, he said. They could also provide in-house training and make better use of support staff, he claimed, adding: “I think we’ll see more schools undertaking more ways to professionalise their teaching assistant stock.”
He predicted that MATs would grow and become more spread out across the country as a result of the funding formula, so that they could balance out any gains or losses by schools within the chain.