Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Are schools properly funded in order to maintain standards? NO

NO: Catherine Darnton headteacher of Gillotts School in Henley, and Rick Holroyd, headteacher of Langtree School in Woodcote, respond.

JOHN HOWELL has certainly put great effort into the task of improving funding for education. We appreciate what he has done and the value of what he has delivered on behalf of schools.

However, in spite of his efforts and the efforts of others, the fact remains that school funding has fallen in real terms. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has concluded that, even allowing for the extra school funding recently announced by Education Secretary Justine Greening, school funding will have seen a real-terms cut of 4.6 per cent between 2015 and 2019.  

The situation will get still more difficult if the cap on public sector pay increases is relaxed.

This is why many headteachers, governors and their professional associations continue to campaign for further additional funding going forward.

Education has been protected during the period of austerity since 2010 with funding being maintained in cash terms. Secondary schools in Oxfordshire have received roughly £4,800 per pupil per year in every financial year from 2012/13 to 2017/18. 

However, the problem is that in each of these years, the Government has imposed increasing costs on schools. Salaries account for more tahan 80 per cent of schools’ budgets and staff have received a one per cent pay increase each year. 

In September 2015, the employer contribution to teachers’ pensions increased by almost 2.5 per cent

From April 2016, changes to the rate of employer contribution to National Insurance added, on average, about two per cent to staffing costs.  In addition, there has been general inflation, now running at three per cent , and other increased costs, such as the apprenticeship levy. 

All of this has led to a significant real-terms cut in school funding.

The new national funding formula will ensure that schools in areas with a similar socio-economic profile receive a similar amount of money.

The Government rightly places great emphasis on ensuring pupils with additional educational needs, such as eligibility for free school meals or low prior attainment, receive additional support. 

The problem is that because the overall total funding is too small, this leaves too little for the basic entitlement that every school receives for each pupil on roll

In Oxfordshire in 2017/18, this basic funding for secondary pupils is £4,245 (years 7-9) and £4,448 (years 10-11). 

Under the national funding formula this reduces to £3,863 and £4,386.  This means that schools without significant numbers of pupils with additional needs simply won’t have enough for the basic costs of putting a teacher in front of a reasonable-sized class for every hour each week. Since the formula was first proposed, the Government has increased the amount of this basic per-pupil funding but only by £66 (years 7-9) and £74 (years 10-11). While welcome, this is not enough to solve the problem. 

John mentions his work with the f40 group of the lowest-funded local authorities. They have modelled the true costs of running a school and estimate that the basic per-pupil funding rates need to be £4,122 (years 7-9) and £5,070 (years 10-11).

One of the reasons that John has campaigned for fairer funding for Oxfordshire is because, historically, there have been huge differences in the amount of funding per pupil across the country. Rates have varied from about £4,000 in Wokingham to just under £7,000 in Tower Hamlets.

Although the new national funding formula ensures similar schools are similarly funded, it preserves these huge differences. 

Under the formula, in 2018/19, the worst-funded local authority at secondary level will be York with £4,704 on average per secondary pupil. The best-funded will be Hackney with £7,840.  Oxfordshire will continue to come close to the bottom with £4,947. 

So secondary schools in Oxfordshire should, on average, see a cash increase in their budgets for 2018/19 of just over one per cent , which will be very welcome. If the public sector pay cap is maintained, then that will be enough to fund pay rises.

But we all know that there is significant pressure to remove the pay cap. The wages of school staff have decreased significantly in real terms since 2010 and we now have difficulties attracting new people into teaching and retaining those we have already.

Headteachers are therefore campaigning for any pay rises, and any further rises in employer pension contributions, to be fully funded by the Government going forward.

The extra £1.3billion for school funding announced by Justine Greening in July was, of course, very welcome.

John is quite right in saying that the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ assessment is that, rather than being cut, school funding will be frozen in real terms from 2017 to 2019. 

However, the IFS also concludes that there will still have been a real- terms cut of 4.6 per cent between 2015 and 2019.  The extra £1.3billion has just reduced the cut from 6.5 per cent to 4.6 per cent .

Increasing pupil numbers may well help some schools over the coming years.  However, Oxfordshire County Council’s pupil planning data shows that patterns of growth are very varied across the county and there is a number of areas currently with very significant over-capacity at secondary level.

As headteachers, we do understand the need for austerity and that we cannot expect the sort of real-terms increases that schools experienced prior to 2010. We have accepted and made cuts every year since 2010.

The problem is that we have cut so far that we cannot see how to cut any further without changing the fundamental characteristics of a good school.

That is why so many in education continue to campaign so vigorously for additional funding going forward.

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