Under the proposals announced on Wednesday, more than 9,000 schools in England will lose funding, with money moving from London and other urban centres that have been well funded in the past to schools in areas that receive less money.
Almost 11,000 schools will gain from the redrafted formula, of which 3,400 will see increases of 5% to their funding. However, unions warned that even the so-called winners in the funding shakeup were likely to see their gains outweighed by real-terms cuts to their funding over the next three years.
The long-awaited new funding formula was announced on the same day that Whitehall’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, warned that schools in England were facing an 8% real-terms cut in funding per pupil by 2019-20 as a result of £3bn worth of cuts. The changes outlined in the new funding formula will mean further cuts on top of this for some schools.
Full details of which areas will win and lose were revealed in the Department for Education’s second consultation on its national funding formula, which aims to address historic gaps in funding between different areas that can amount to thousands of pounds per pupil.
More than 100 local authorities will see gains under the new formula – with the 10 lowest-funded local authorities gaining on average 3.6% – while almost 50 will see cuts to their funding. In 2018-19, the first year of the revised funding, Derby, York and Plymouth are among the winners, while the top five losers are London boroughs.
Speaking to MPs in the Commons, Greening attempted to reassure London schools, which are likely to be among the worst affected by the shakeup, that they would continue to be well funded.
No school will lose more than 3% overall, with a maximum cut capped at 1.5% per year. Nevertheless the education secretary pointed out that the number of children on free schools meals in the capital – a measure of deprivation and therefore high need – had fallen from 28% to 17%.
“Our proposed reforms will mean an end to historical unfairness and underfunding for certain schools,” said Greening. “We need a system that funds schools according to the needs of their pupils rather than their postcode, levelling the playing field and giving parents the confidence that every child will have an equal opportunity to reach their full potential.”
According to the DfE document, regionally the greatest increases in funding will be seen in the East Midlands (up 2.5%) and the south-east (up 2.3%), with the greatest reductions in inner London (down 2.4%).
On a more local level, schools in Barnsley and Knowsley look set to gain, while Manchester and Liverpool will lose with per pupil funding down by 2.2% on average.
The government argues that despite the proposed cuts, schools in inner London will continue to be funded at the highest level to match need. Schools in Manchester, Nottingham, Liverpool and Birmingham will be the highest funded areas outside the capital.
Adrian Prandle, director of economic strategy at the Association of Teachers and Lecturer, said that however the government dressed up its new funding formula, around 90% of schools would see a real-terms cut to their funding.
“The government has not put the needs of children first in failing to come up with any additional funding for schools. School budgets are already cut to the bone. Without additional funding, schools will struggle to recruit enough staff, many will have to cut staff, cut the subjects they teach, cut IT upgrades, increase class sizes, cut the maintenance of classrooms, cut extracurricular activities and charge parents for school concerts and plays.”
Peter John, deputy chair of London councils with responsibility for education, warned that a reduction in funding to the capital’s schools would undermine the country’s most successful education system. “London’s schools are currently the best performing in the country at GCSE level and around 80% are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted.
“Headteachers will be forced to make difficult decisions, including increasing class sizes, reducing curriculum choice and cutting down on extra support for all pupils,” John said. “These changes are likely to have a dramatic impact on school standards.”
Rural schools, in contrast, which suffer particular hardships because they are often small and isolated and therefore attract less funding and support, stand to gain from the new arrangements and a revised “sparsity measure” that will provide additional funding. A mobility factor will be taken into account for schools with a high turnover of pupils during the school year.
Paul Carter, chairman of the County Councils Network, many of whose members stand to gain from the changes, said: “Counties welcome the consultation on the new funding formula and look forward to engaging in the detail. We will work with the government to ensure that funding to schools in all four corners of the country are fair and allow us to build on our already high standards.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the new formula was a step in the right direction towards a fairer national distribution of school funding but added that it would only work if there were sufficient funds in the first place.
“The Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that school spending per pupil is likely to fall by around 8% in real terms by 2019-20, the first drop since the mid-1990s. Today’s National Audit Office report sets out that mainstream schools are expected to find £3bn in savings by 2019-20, echoing our own recent survey in which 69% of school leaders stated that they believe their deficits will be untenable by 2020.
“School funding is not sufficient. A change in how funding is distributed is important, but it will not solve this fundamental lack of investment.”
Kevin Courtney, general secretary at the National Union of Teachers, added: “Far from being the levelling up that some councils and heads have demanded, this is a levelling down. Even the schools currently worst funded will see real-terms cuts in this parliament.”
A 14-month consultation period now follows on the new formula, which will be introduced in 2018-19.
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