Losers in funding shake-up could `die on their feet'

19th June 2015 at 01:00
Fears raised that schools will have to learn how to lay off staff

Some schools would lose more than pound;1,000 per pupil under a radical funding reform plan being pushed by an influential lobby group that has the ear of government ministers, TES can reveal.

The scheme would mean rapid changes of hundreds of pounds per pupil for many schools across the country. The figures led one headteacher to warn that some schools could "die on their feet" and that leaders would need training in making redundancies.

Schools are already facing real-terms cuts, with budgets squeezed further by rising pupil numbers and increased teacher pay. Now the new government is prioritising the introduction of a national school funding system, and the f40 group of local councillors and MPs - which campaigns for fairer funding - looks set to play a major role in shaping the details.

The group's former vice-chairman Robin Walker has been appointed as parliamentary private secretary to education secretary Nicky Morgan, and f40 has replaced him with Graham Stuart, the outgoing Conservative chair of the Commons Education Select Committee.

This week Mr Stuart told TES that he would be pressing for the changes to be introduced without "minimum funding guarantees" to ease the pain.

The MP, whose Beverley and Holderness constituency includes some of the country's lowest-funded schools, said the current system for allocating funding was "perverse, broken and wrong" and should be overhauled as quickly as possible.

Measures to slow the impact on hard-hit schools could leave "excessive allocations going on and on.while other schools are cutting right down to the bone," he said.

The group was this week due to press its case in a meeting with Sam Gyimah, the minister responsible for the school funding formula.

Redundancy risk

Dame Joan McVittie, headteacher of Woodside High School in Haringey, North London, told TES that reforming the system without minimum funding guarantees would trigger "absolute chaos" and would hit schools in deprived areas.

"We always knew [the funding overhaul] would happen, but the plea has been to do it so it's staged.The only way you can make the savings is by cutting teachers, and you can't do that overnight," she said.

"There needs to be a minimum funding guarantee, otherwise I think it will really damage some of the most vulnerable children. If the government follows Mr Stuart's advice, there's a risk that some schools would just die on their feet."

Dame Joan added that the headteachers of the schools losing out would need training on making redundancies, because a "generation of headteachers" had "never managed staffing reductions before".

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, said he understood the "frustrations" of people campaigning for change because previous government attempts to reform the system had been put on hold. But he added: "If you change budgets by too much in any year you can cause unforeseen harm elsewhere.I suspect that some of the changes might be in the region of 10 per cent over time."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said the reforms would be "complex" but the department was "looking at what more needs to be done to ensure that all areas.are protected from excessive year-on-year changes".

Ups and downs

  • Under the f40 group's proposals, schools in Hackney would lose an average of pound;1,002 per pupil from their annual budgets.
  • Schools in other London boroughs would also be hit hard: in Tower Hamlets, they would lose pound;767 per pupil, and in Lambeth they would lose pound;748.
  • Schools in Barnsley, the area with the biggest gains, would receive an extra pound;454 on average per pupil, the group's figures show. In Wokingham, they would gain an average of pound;215 per child, and pound;213 in Worcestershire.
  • The figures should be treated as indicative because they are based on 2014-15 data rather than this year's funding levels, according to a spokesman for the f40 group.

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