Saturday, 16 December 2017

School in danger of cash crisis

School in danger of cash crisis

GILLOTTS School in Henley is set to become one of the worst-funded schools in the country, says the headteacher.

Catharine Darnton spoke out after the Government announced that its new schools funding formula would give every school at least 0.5 per cent more per pupil in 2018-19 and one per cent more the following year. It will also allocate a lump sum of £110,000 to every school.

Gillotts is in line for an increase of 1.8 per cent, about £60,000.

But Ms Darnton said that this would actually equate to a loss due to inflation, which is currently running at 2.9 per cent, and the removal of the public sector pay cap.

“It won’t be a real-term raise,” she said. “It’s going to make us one of the worst funded schools in the country.

“Over the last few years when staff have left we’ve not replaced them, we’ve had to change a lot of the curriculum for the staff we have and we’ve increased class sizes.

“We are pretty much at the limit now of sensible things we can do in order to save more money. You can’t go on saving money without looking at a very different set of measures and that’s somewhere I don’t want to go. We are proud of the education we provide and want to go on doing that.”

Ms Darnton, who joined the school in 2007, was instrumental in its conversion from a state secondary to an academy in 2012, giving it more power over how it spends its funding.

She says the school is now using the money it saved during its early years as an academy but that can’t last.

Ms Darnton said: “I haven’t spent 10 years of my life building up this school to end up in a position of having to make unpleasant decisions just to keep it afloat. We need a little bit more money, not a huge amount. A few billion pounds will make all the difference. The money needs to go up in line with inflation and pay rises — that’s a tiny ask.”

She has written to parents explaining how the new formula will affect Gillotts and asking parents to lobby MPs.

Ms Darnton said: “The argument is clear but ministers are not listening, despite this being a key doorstep issue during the election.”

The letter is part of a nationwide campaign called Fair Funding For All Schools, which is supported by headteachers in 17 counties, teachers’ unions and educational organisations and includes an online petition.

Ms Darnton wrote: “As headteachers, we simply want to see every child’s school in England funded adequately. It is not about all schools receiving identical amounts of money but it is about the fair application of a formula right across the country.

“We recognise that there has been some improvement to our budgets and that as a country we must live within our means. We cannot, however, suggest the new formula is in any way satisfactory. The finances of very low-funded schools are still insufficient to provide the service that your child deserves.

“In his Budget in November 2018, the Chancellor must do better to support your child’s education. MPs and education ministers must continue to bang the drum until every child’s education is fully and fairly funded.”

The Government’s originally proposed changes to the formula would have seen funding at many schools cut.

However, it backtracked following protests by some of its own MPs, including Henley’s John Howell and then Reading East MP Rob Wilson.

Under the original plans, almost every primary school in the Henley area was expected to receive up to three per cent less funding while Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common would have been the only local secondary to benefit.

At the moment the formula is calculated by education authorities, such as Oxfordshire County Council, which means similar schools in different parts of the country get vastly different amounts.

The Government said this was unfair and outdated and wanted to standardise the process.

Ahead of June’s general election, John Howell vowed that no school in the Henley area would have its budget cut as a result of proposed changes and, following widespread protests, the Government opted for the increase in funding that it announced last month.

At the time, Mr Howell said: “The national funding formula will direct resources where they are most needed, helping to ensure that every child can get the high-quality education they deserve wherever they live.

“It will provide that money through a transparent formula, delivering greater predictability, and will replace an unfair, opaque and outdated system that sees different areas receive very different amounts for no justifiable reason.”

This week, he said he was “disappointed” at the tenor of Ms Darnton’s letter.

Mr Howell said: “It comes across as ‘give us more money’ without specifying how much that is and where it’s going to come from.

“When it comes to figuring out where schools expenditure is going to come from and public sector pay caps that hasn’t yet been decided, the letter is premature.

“The funding formula has been heavily amended and I think it provides schools with a much better basis with which to work.

“Of course schools could always use more money but it would be nice for them to come up with a figure.”

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