Education funding has been a constant topic of news recently as Theresa May plans to fund a ‘new generation’ of grammar schools by 2020. However, although the government claim that “there is more funding in education than ever before,” state schools are suffering as a result of ongoing funding cuts.
The ‘National Funding Formula’ proposed by the Department for Education (DfE) which is due to be implemented by 2018/2019, has been met with serious contention from head teachers and parents of pupils at primary and secondary schools in South Cambridgeshire, after findings that the region is receiving some of the lowest funding in the country.
Education Secretary, Justine Greening announced last December, that this fairer funding formula would see that nationally, 3,000 schools would get rises of more than five per cent.
The government promised a system that gives consistent and fair funding to schools based on the needs of pupils and the school they attend, but this is not the case according to Simon Holmes, head teacher at Melbourn Village College.
“Cambridgeshire is roughly £500 per pupil below the national average funding level, that would be over £200,000 for MVC per year!”
The funding cuts have meant that Melbourn Village College, like many other primary and secondary schools in the area, have had to cut back on support staff and other expenditure such as upkeep of buildings, investment in computers/equipment and also subsidising trips.
“In theory a national formula should help, in fact the Government’s proposed national formula would mean an increase for Melbourn Village College of around £78,000 per year. However a significant number of schools in South East Cambridgeshire will actually lose money,” said Mr Holmes.
Many argue, that alongside designating funding for each region based on the needs of pupils and the schools they attend, the government need to consider the rising costs of running a school in areas with higher affluence and a higher demographic such as South Cambridgeshire.
Per pupil funding
Heidi Allen, South Cambridgeshire, Conservative MP, argues that per pupil funding in her region is £3000 lower than the same age pupils in Haringey, Tower Hamlets and other high funded areas.
“If the government’s proposal was implemented, based on current pupil data, those schools in London would be in line to receive up to £6,675 per pupil per year. Yet schools in South Cambridgeshire would still only receive £4,198.”
Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrat MP, Lucy Nethsingha explained that, “the level of per-pupil funding is much lower than it should be.” She believes that increasing the level of per-pupil funding gradually overtime to catch up with other areas will make a huge difference.
Simon Holmes states that a variation in funding exists even in neighbouring counties, “Cambridgeshire currently gets £4,261 per pupil and Hertfordshire (only two miles down the road from us) gets £4,392. That’s £131 per student, or roughly £65,000 for MVC.”
Part of the funding is a ‘lump sum’, this is given to all schools to recognise that there are some costs that all schools face regardless of size. This obviously benefits smaller schools. Simon Holmes explains,
“As Melbourn is a small secondary school, we would like that sum to be as large as possible. However the proposed formula actually reduces it from the level that Cambridgeshire used to give, (now £110,000 rather than previously around £150,000).”
Even if schools in South Cambridgeshire do get an increase in funding, Mr Holmes argues that in Melbourn Village College’s case, unfortunately the increase will be wiped out by staffing pay increases and inflation, as they are not going to get any more year on year.
More grammar schools?
Lucy Nethsingha believes that these increases could also be minimised or even wiped out if more grammar schools are introduced as Theresa May proposes.
“There is a danger that if we start introducing grammar schools that you could damage our excellent comprehensive system.”
“Because the Department for Education’s funding is fixed, if they start giving bits of it away to particular groups or types of school, this means that there is less for everybody else.”
The Education Secretary stated in her National Funding Formula consultation document that, “underfunded schools do not have access to the same opportunities to do the best for their children, and it is harder to attract the best teachers to afford the right support.”
Simon Holmes agrees,
“We could change teacher pay structure and therefore pay people less. However, our view is that if we paid teachers less that other schools, we would end up with worse teachers so this isn’t a sensible option.”
If the National Funding Formula is not revised, as hoped for by South Cambridgeshire schools, the lack of funding could have a huge impact on those schools as their intake numbers may drop. Consequently this means that so will their funding if they continue to receive money per pupil as the formula proposes.
However, research conducted by the independent research body, Institute for Fiscal Studies, found that the new funding formula could imply further cuts to per-pupil spending of 7% for around 1,000 schools after 2019-20. So even if the National Funding Formula is implemented in 2018/2019, there is still uncertainty about the stability of education funding in the future.