Friday, 15 December 2017

Are schools properly funded in order to maintain standards? YES

YES: Henley MP John Howell says that campaigners and the media don't paint a fair picture of the Government's investment.

IN recent years I have supported our schools over funding in many ways — arranging meetings with the Prime Minister and other ministers, supporting the f40 group, which has campaigned for better funding, and submitting petitions in the Commons. I have also lobbied ministers on behalf of our schools and children.

It is wrong to say that there have been cuts to education, as campaign groups suggest. This is misleading.

The new formula used to disperse the money to schools provides cash gains in respect of every school and the independent Institute of Fiscal studies is clear that, with our new investment of £1.3 billion, the schools budget will now be maintained in real terms per pupil from this year to 2019/20 when the current funding round ends.

The additional £1.3 billion we have announced for schools means that core funding for schools and high needs will rise from almost £41billion in 2017/18 to £42.4billion in 2018/19 and £43.5billion in 2019-20.

This means that overall, across the country, funding will be maintained, in real terms per pupil, over the next two years. These figures represent an increase of more than 3.4 per cent in 2018/19 and 6.1 per cent in 2019/20, based on the 2017/18 figures.

Issues around school funding are complex and the formula used historically to distribute funding to schools has been unfair and opaque and based on data which is now well out of date.

I am therefore pleased that the Department for Education has listened to many concerns on this.

Earlier in the year there was a consultation on the national funding formula to which the secretary of state has responded with the announcement that we are investing an additional £1.3 billion across 2018/19 and 2019/20, over and above existing spending plans.

I have responded positively to this but the figures have been challenged by those who feel that the £1.3 billion is insufficient and that there have been “cuts”.

I have not claimed that this new funding formula or the additional £1.3billion will address all these concerns but they are certainly a step in the right direction. The campaigning we have done for a fairer funding formula has been recognised.

What the increase in funding for the schools budget means in terms of funding per pupil is that schools with low pupil-led funding will have their funding topped up to reach the minimum per pupil funding levels, which are £4,600 in 2018/19 and £4,800 in 2019/20 for secondary schools and £3,300 in 2018/19 and £3,500 in 2019/20 for primary schools.

These figures are “floors”, not “ceilings” and I will continue to make the case for schools in the Henley constituency.

These are figures which some headteachers told the minister for education are acceptable to run schools.

The new national funding formula will mean that, for the first time, school funding will be distributed based on the individual needs and characteristics of every school in the country. This will direct resources where they are needed most and provide transparency and predictability for schools.

About 90 per cent of funding is based on the pupils in the school and provides:

• A basic amount for each pupil, which increases as they progress through the key stages.

• Funding for those with additional needs who are more likely to be behind their peers.

• The minimum per pupil funding level to which I have already referred.

The other 10 per cent of the funding is based on the characteristics of the school itself, including a £110,000 lump sum for every school and extra funding for small schools in sparse rural locations and those experiencing high levels of pupil growth.

The formula also includes a funding floor that means every school will be allocated at least a one per cent increase by 2019/20, with at least 0.5 per cent in 2018/19, compared with baselines. The additional £1.3billion investment allows an increase in the funding that all pupils attract through the formula, compared with what we originally proposed. We are doing this in three ways:

• The basic amounts for pupils at each key stage have all increased.

• There will be a minimum per pupil funding level for primary and secondary schools.

• In 2018/19 the formula will provide, as a minimum, a 0.5 per cent per pupil increase for every school and in 2019/20 an increase of one per cent compared with baselines. Every school will attract a cash increase.

Secondary schools in the Henley constituency have received increases of between one per cent and 3.4 per cent yet some have still been telling parents that the per-pupil amount will drop to £4,100 per pupil when it will rise to £4,800 and that they must make up the difference. This is disingenuous.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies has confirmed that overall funding per pupil across the country will now be maintained in real terms over the next two years. In reviewing the announcement and looking at original proposals prior to consultation, it said: “First, there is more money. The average cash-terms increase in funding [per] pupil between 2017/18 and 2019/20 is... equivalent to a real-terms freeze.”

This brings us on to the question of costs. Just like many others organisations, schools face cost pressures. Alongside getting the income figure right, the Government has been looking at how it can help schools manage these costs. The Department for Education understands that schools have faced cost pressures and, in addition to a significant package of advice and support available to schools, it will be providing targeted efficiency advice and support to schools that are in financial difficulty this year.

Analysis indicates that if the 25 per cent of schools spending the highest amounts on non-staff expenditure were instead spending at the level of the rest, a saving of more than £1billion could be achieved.

Some of the calculations being used to try to show cuts are based on a flawed calculation that starts from the position of school budgets in 2015/16 and then calculates the cost pressures on school budgets over four years. This baseline is never mentioned. Nor is the fact that most of these past pressures have already been absorbed by schools while at the same time standards continue to rise.

The Government is concerned to ensure support for children who face the greatest barriers to their education and thus is also reforming the funding for children with high needs.

For the first time, this funding will be distributed fairly and consistently across the country. Through additional investment, every local authority will see a minimum increase in high-needs funding of 0.5 per cent in 2018/19 and one per cent in 2019/20.

In summary, the IFS says: “Given the current state of the school funding system, the latest proposals imply school funding reform is moving in the right direction.”

The question that remains is the additional £1.3billion enough? This is, of course, a political point and I am sure that every sector would say they want more. However, we have to understand that we can only provide more if our economy does well, which is what we have been trying to do.

Although schools may want more, and although costs have risen, an increase in cash cannot be called a cut. Some data being quoted is prior to the recent government announcement, so no assessment of the new funding has been included.

Other data is using the Consumer Price Index to look at inflation but this is not the best measure of the costs faced by a school.

The national increases announced by the Government are slightly above the forecast levels of the GDP deflator, which is a measure of the economy-wide inflation. While it is not an education-specific measure, it does at least cover the future year.

Also overlooked is the fact that pupil numbers are set to rise in coming years. As a majority of the school funding is based on a per-pupil basis, more pupils means more money. This is why schools are so keen to fill their places to ensure economies of scale.

I hope that those schools that are still campaigning will join me in welcoming this progress in school funding and the fact that, rather than cuts, additional funding has been put into this important budget.

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