During the past six years the education system has withstood a number of Conservative changes. It began with the introduction of free schools and academies, continued with a re-writing of the curriculum and the tearing up of the established assessment system then most recently the proposed re-introduction of grammar schools. Not content with those huge changes the Conservatives are now looking to introduce a new ‘fair funding formula’ for schools across the country.
Inevitably from the party of austerity, new funding effectively means less funding. The National Union of Teachers estimates the funding will leave 98% of schools worse off by 2020, which will impact greatly on children and their learning. Huw Merriman, Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle is quoted as saying, "More schools are worse-off than better-off [in my constituency]. I don't get this and I don't think it's particularly fair."
The Dedicated Schools Grant is the current main form of funding for state-schools. Each local authority receives a funding allocation from the government based on an historic per-pupil funding ratio. The financial allocations vary largely between authorities, the money is then allocated to each individual school but these per school amounts also vary. This results in some schools in some more favourable local authorities receiving vastly more than an unlucky school in an unfortunate area.
There has been tentative cross party support on tackling this inequality and the coalition government attempted to even the distribution slightly with an extra £390million sent largely to those constituencies who lose out in the formula. In the Conservative manifesto for the 2015 general election there was a promise to introduce a new formula by the end of the current parliament.
The New Proposal
The idea behind the national funding formula is a national determination of how much funding each pupil would earn for their school. By the end of the current Parliament, schools would receive their funding direct from the government cutting out local authority involvement. This would apply to every state-school in Britain, including primary and secondary schools.
In the new National Funding Formula money is allocated after taking in to account four main factors;
The basic age related per-pupil funding.
Additional needs such as deprivation, English as an additional language and mobility.
School-led funding covering areas like premises, sharing services and any large jumps in pupil numbers.
Geographic differences in the labour market and salaries offered between regions.
On 14th December last year Education Secretary, Justine Greening, announced in Parliament that these changes would see 54% (10,740) of all schools earning an increase in funding however 46% (9,128) would lose out under the new system. There will be a cap on those schools having funding increased, set initially at 3% per-pupil reducing to 2.5% by 2019 and a cap on schools losing money set consistently at 3%.
Criticisms of the New System
Angela Raynor, Labour’s Shadow Education Minister, reacted to these reforms by saying the government was, “moving inadequate sums of money around. The Tories are cutting budgets overall, and schools are struggling to plug the gaps.” Her response was boosted by a National Audit Office (NAO) report which was highly critical of the government’s response to a looming funding crisis within education.
The report said the Department for Education is failing to recognise that per-pupil spending would drop over the next four years. This is because the government has committed to freezing per-pupil spending until 2020 despite pupil numbers being predicted to rise by 3.9% and increases in inflation raising costs. The NAO said schools would be forced to make £3billion in savings because of those factors, in effect an 8% budget cut.
Source: Institute of Fiscal Studies report (15th April 2016)
Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee commented, “The government supposed to support them (schools) to become more efficient has instead focused on structural reform. It is all sounding like too familiar a story.” The DfE responded by insisting the new formula was a way of offering certainty on school budgets to head teachers and local authorities so they can plan for the long term.
Effect of Funding Crisis
Although funding is not facing a real terms cut, a funding crisis looms because the government is not increasing funding in line with the increasing number of pupils. This means that money received per-pupil will fall by 2019 by as much as £477 per pupil in secondary and £339 at primary level, the NUT estimates. Statistics show schools are already struggling to cope with current budget restraints, in 2014 61% of secondary schools spent more than their income. This is before the predicted 3.9% pupil number increase which will not be matched with any higher levels of funding.
Teaching unions have spoken out about the fair funding formula; the NUT suggests that it could result in cuts to staffing, “The Government’s so-called ‘fair funding’ proposals will impose huge funding cuts on many schools unless additional funding is made available. Many schools are already cutting back on staff and increasing class sizes,” adding that, “teachers’ pay continues to fall behind other graduate professions.”
Widespread criticism from those within the education sector, politicians from all sides and the National Audit Office suggests this policy has many flaws. It is in effect a cut to education funding through the back door, moving around the same amount of money without acknowledging that rising pupil numbers, alongside other factors, will give schools a budget cut estimated to be £3bn in total. A website has been set up called School Cuts where you can check what funding schools in your area are set to lose.
This well disguised budget cut will leave children with teachers teaching subjects they’re not trained in, larger class sizes as staff are cut and without adequate resources, equipment or premises. It will mean less specialist teachers in primary and secondary, fewer support staff, fewer learning enhancing experiences and less support in special educational needs and mental health.
The proposals follow a Conservative manifesto pledge that, “The amount of money following your child into school will be protected.” It seems Theresa May is happy for that commitment to be made a lie.