Exclusive: At least 1,100 small rural schools facing cuts despite minsters' funding protection pledge

Warnings that funding changes could threaten viability of many of the schools

Helen Ward & Martin George

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More than a thousand small rural schools face the prospect of cuts under the government’s proposals for a national funding formula, despite ministerial assurances that they would be protected, TES can reveal.

Critics are warning that the changes could threaten the viability of many of the schools.

A TES analysis of government figures illustrating the impact of the plans shows that at least 1,101 rural schools that meet the Department for Education’s official definition of “small” would have their budgets cut.

The news follows education secretary Justine Greening’s assurance to Parliament in December that the new funding arrangements would “protect small rural schools, which are so important for their local communities through the inclusion of a sparsity factor”.

England’s small schools in rural areas would gain an average 1.3 per cent under the proposals. However the published figures – which compare individual schools’ 2016-17 funding with what they could expect under the new national funding formula – also reveal that more than 40 per cent of the small rural schools listed by the DfE would end up with less money.

Nancy Lees is head of Castleton CofE Primary in Derbyshire, which could be hit by a 0.5 per cent cut in the first year of the new system, and a 1 per cent cut in the second if there is no transitional funding.

“For us, it’s really quite disastrous, because we are very, very small,” she said. “We have got 18 children on the roll. If we can’t recoup money from somewhere, we will have to question the future viability of the school.”

Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the NUT teaching union, said: “Unless this changes, the government may call into question the financial viability of rural schools,”

The proposals for a national funding formula are designed to make school funding fairer across the country, by ironing out local variations, and were designed to take account of “sparsity” – a measure of the number of pupils and distance to the next school.

A DfE spokesperson said “Small rural schools will gain on average 1.3 per cent. Small and remote primary schools will see even larger gains of 5.3 per cent on average.”

@teshelen @geomr

This is an edited version of an article in the 20 January edition of TES. Subscribers can view the full article here. This week's TES magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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Helen Ward & Martin George

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