School budgets risk being "thrown into chaos" by delays in the government announcing a new funding formula, headteachers have warned.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has said that some schools will face last-minute cuts and others could go without urgently needed new funding because the government has not published details of a new funding formula in time.
The delays have been caused because today is the start of the "purdah" period ahead of the EU referendum on 23 June. During this time, the government is not able to make major policy announcements, so it cannot publish details of the new formula.
This means that the earliest date for publication of the new formula is 24 June. This would need to be followed by a three-month consultation, plus time for the government to analyse the responses, develop and finalise its proposals and work with local authorities to implement them – a process that would take several months.
Timetable 'very tight'
Malcolm Trobe, ASCL’s interim general secretary, said schools that would lose out on funds were unlikely to be given enough time to make changes that would help them to cope, especially if these involved making redundancies, which can require a lengthy legal process.
"The timetable for the new funding formula was already very tight and this delay is the straw that breaks the camel’s back," he said in a statement.
"We have argued vigorously that the new formula should not be about creating winners and losers. However, we are likely to end up in that situation, and it is absolutely imperative that if this does happen, the ‘losers’ should at least have enough time to prepare for these very difficult changes.
"It will cause absolute chaos if they find themselves having to cut their budgets at the last minute without any chance to put in place a strategy to deal with these reductions."
Call for extra funds
ASCL is calling on the government to "prevent significant problems" by announcing that no school will have its budget reduced in 2017-18. The union said that schools would have "insufficient time to plan for such a change".
It is also calling for extra funds to be made available for 2017-18 so that low-funded schools can have their budgets increased in that year without the funding needing to be taken from other schools at short notice. These schools are facing a "financial cliff edge", the union warned.
The new formula, which will redistribute the national schools budget and is expected to lead to London schools losing out, is scheduled to come into force in April 2017 for maintained schools and September 2017 for academies.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We have protected the core schools budget in real terms, so that, as pupil numbers increase, so will the amount of money in our schools.
"At the same time, we are consulting on a national formula to make funding fairer, and address the historic unfairness in the system so funding is matched to need. This will be the biggest step forward in making funding fair in over a decade.
"We are determined to take the time to get this right, which is why we are conducting a two-stage consultation. But we want schools to benefit as soon as possible and are committed to introducing a national formula in 2017-18. To help schools manage the change, we are setting a national Minimum Funding Guarantee to limit the amount their allocation can fall from one year to the next and will consult further on the detail of this in our second consultation.”