A ‘fair funding’ formula, but not all schools will be happy

27th November 2015 at 00:00
Extra budget cuts of up to 2% are proposed for schools in highest-funded areas – heads fear ‘drastic’ impact

Some schools could face extra budget cuts of up to 2 per cent a year under government plans to introduce a national “fair funding formula”, TES has learned.

Officials at the Department for Education are understood to be considering finding extra cash for low-funded schools by imposing annual 2 per cent cuts on schools in the areas that currently receive the most money.

Chancellor George Osborne confirmed this week that a new formula would be introduced in 2017-18, but did not reveal details of its implementation. If approved, the DfE measure would lead to annual cuts for an expected five years, in a move designed to close gaps between schools’ budgets described by Mr Osborne as “arbitrary and unfair”.

At present, schools in the best-funded areas – many in inner London – receive over £3,000 per pupil more than those in the worst-funded areas (see data panel).

The cuts on the table would not be as drastic as those that the NUT predicted would be triggered by the formula this week. But a headteachers’ leader has warned that annual reductions of 2 per cent, on top of a squeeze caused by rising costs and budgets that are falling in real terms, would cause serious difficulties.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT union, said that if the plan were implemented, some schools would effectively face cuts of as much as 18 per cent over five years. Many schools that would lose funds were in deprived areas and were already spending money on “filling in the gaps” left by cuts to other public services, such as mental health, Mr Hobby warned.

“I fear those schools will face more demand for [those services] over time – more of their extra money will be needed,” he said. Mr Hobby called on the government to make extra cash available to “cushion the blow” for schools that would lose out under the funding formula shake-up.

In addition, a separate DfE plan, revealed by TES last week and confirmed in the spending review, will mean thousands of academies being hit by further cuts to the education services grant (see bit.ly/GrantCuts).

Squeezed budgets

Dame Dana Ross-Wawrzynski is chief executive of the Bright Futures Educational Trust academy chain, which runs schools in Manchester – one of the high-funded areas with most to lose under the new formula. She told TES that cuts of 2 per cent a year could have a “truly detrimental effect”. And she suggested that schools would have to turn to private sector sponsorship to cope (see panel, below).

Jacques Szemalikowski, head of the comprehensive Hampstead School in Camden, North London – an area likely to be hit – said a cut of 2 per cent would have a “very drastic” impact. It would force the school to increase class sizes and scale back its “team around the child” approach, which employs a social worker, education welfare officer and behaviour mentors to support vulnerable children.

Mr Szemalikowski warned that the change to the formula would make it difficult for schools across the capital to recruit and retain teachers.

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools’ ability to cope with a 2 per cent annual cut would vary according to their circumstances. “You could take 2 per cent off one school and it may be able to manage reasonably well, but a school down the road might find that very difficult,” he said.

Mr Trobe added that the ASCL supported a fairer funding formula, but the process of introducing this would be “very complex” and would need to be carefully managed.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “This government is taking the difficult decisions necessary to ensure that the schools budget is protected and will continue to rise as pupil numbers increase.

“We have made significant progress towards fairer funding for schools, through an additional £390 million allocated in 2015-16 to 69 of the least fairly funded areas – the biggest step towards fairer schools funding in 10 years.”


‘Schools will have to explore industry sponsorship’

State schools will have to turn to sponsorship from private industry to cope with the latest government education funding cuts, an academy chain head has said.

Dame Dana Ross-Wawrzynski (pictured), chief executive of the Bright Futures Educational Trust, said: “Entrepreneurial is a word usually reserved for businesses, but the time has come for schools and trusts to explore new revenue streams, such as industry sponsorship, to address the growing funding gap.”

Funding pressures had led her chain’s schools to set up partnerships with firms such as electronics giant Siemens, she said. Some of the trust’s schools are in Manchester, an area likely to be one of the hardest hit under a new “fair funding formula”.

Dame Dana described 2 per cent as “quite a critical cut”. “Bigger class sizes would be the only way we could [cope] because we’re already pared down to the bone,” she said.

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