Sadiq Khan, the newly elected Mayor of London, has vowed to fight the government’s plan to bring in a new national school funding formula that could cut the budgets of the capital’s schools.
In his first interview on education since being elected last week, Mr Khan told TES: “The previous mayor [Boris Johnson] didn’t say boo to a goose when it came to London losing money from our schools budget. I will.”
The Labour mayor said that he would use his new role to “make sure the funding formula works for London”.
The proposed funding formula – the first details of which were outlined in March – would redistribute money from higher-funded areas in the capital to other parts of the country. A second version of the proposals, which will detail how much each area will gain or lose, is expected to be published later this term.
Mr Khan told TES that London’s schools had “improved hugely” over the past 15 years because of extra investment in school buildings, facilities and teacher recruitment and retention, but this progress would be “undone” under the government’s plans.
“The new formula from the government will lead to huge sums of money being lost from London, which means children will be losing out on the money they need,” he said.
“We need to make sure the funding formula works for London and I intend to make sure it does. I’ll be in charge of the skills agenda, training up today’s youngsters to have the skills for tomorrow, but it’s no good if primary schools and secondary schools are losing out on funding.” But Mr Khan said that he would not be “getting a megaphone and shouting to the government” about the funding formula; he hoped he would instead “have a good relationship” with Westminster. “It’s about explaining to the government that it’s in nobody’s interests for London’s kids to miss out,” he said. “I’m quite a persuasive bloke, so I’ll look at what options are open to us to make sure we can get the best deal for London.”
‘On the edge of a cliff’
But his pledge to challenge the new formula has raised concerns that schools in low-funded areas outside London could miss out on much-needed extra cash. “We’d be extremely disappointed if some government action wasn’t taken to address funding inequalities,” said Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.
“Low-funded schools in low-funded areas are in significant difficulty already and unless something is done they are going to fall off a cliff in 2017. They will have real difficulty putting teachers in front of classes,” he said.
A previous attempt to bring in a new formula fell through in 2014. Former Liberal Democrat schools minister David Laws told TES in March that prime minister David Cameron referred to it privately as “[Michael] Gove’s plan to lose me the next general election”.
Mr Laws said this week that, when details of what the formula would mean for individual schools’ budgets were published, there would be “quite a big backlash” that could force the government to find extra funds to cushion the blow for those losing out. He said that the case for a new formula was “extremely strong” but added: “If the government wants to avoid a U-turn, it may need to consider other options for transitional protection that go beyond the Department for Education’s budget.”
Mark Cottingham, principal of Shirebrook Academy in Shirebrook, Derbyshire – a low-funded area that stands to gain from a new formula – said: “[The new formula] is something that governments have avoided because it’s so difficult.” He said that his school’s budget has been planned on the assumption it will not receive any extra funds, “because I’ve got no confidence that it’s actually going to happen”.
But a source close to the DfE told TES that Mr Khan’s opposition was unlikely to provoke a U-turn on the plans.
The new formula would be a “unifying measure” for Conservative backbenchers, many of whom represented low-funded areas that stood to gain from the measure, they said.
“It will hold the party together really well,” the source said. They added that opposition from headteachers, parents and Conservative councils would be more likely to force the government to rethink its plans than protests from the Labour party.
The DfE said the new formula would tackle “historic unfairness” and result in every pupil in the country being “funded according to need”. “Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds will attract significant extra funding under the national funding formula, so areas such as London will still attract more than the national average,” a spokesperson added.
‘Small changes can save big money’
Schools could cut their administration costs by as much as 20 per cent by making relatively small changes such as improving time management and staff training, according to a new report from the National Association of School Business Management.
The report, published this week, says that schools could save money by reducing the amount of time teachers spend in meetings, and sending and reading “unnecessary” emails.
Other measures include sharing procurement with other schools to make bulk orders; introducing better payment processes; and training senior managers so they make “more efficient purchasing decisions”. The findings came from a study of efficiency measures at Backwell School near Bristol, carried out by Oxford-based consultants OEE Consulting.
Wendy Farrier, the school’s business manager, said: “I was confident that we were taking every measure available to be efficient. The changes suggested seemed small and obvious, so we were surprised how much money they represented.”