Teaching union fears funding cuts will hit rural schools hard
Suffolk and Norfolk schools will face cuts in their income under a proposed Government National Funding Formula (NFF), the National Union of Teachers claims.
NUT figures suggest the new formula will hit small rural schools and those in deprived areas hardest and warns of fears for the viability of some small schools.
The union predicts real terms cuts of up to 20 per cent per pupil by 2019/20, compared to in 2015/16, with only three schools in Suffolk likely to get small rises, though Suffolk County Council says only 56 will suffer cuts. You can check the NUT’s figures for your school at www.schoolcuts.org.uk.
Andrew Barsley, of the NUT’s campaign team who compiled the figures, said Suffolk sets a funding formula ‘sympathetic’ to rural schools in a way the NFF is not.
“Because you’re putting a one-size-fits-all formula in place you get local rural schools clobbered at one end and on the other side it’s the school with high levels of deprivation,” he said. “They’re doing it at the same time as cutting funding – how are you supposed to manage that?”
He feared it would hit the viability of some small schools and added: “If society thinks these rural schools are too expensive, fair enough, but doing it under the guise of a formula is questionable.”
Sue Cook, Suffolk County Council’s director for children and young people, said: “Whilst there is concern about the sustainability of smaller rural schools, it is important to note it is not exclusively these schools.
“56 schools in Suffolk have been identified as facing a reduction in funding following the reform and whilst some of these are small rural schools, many are larger primaries in urban areas.”
She added: “Whilst Suffolk will see an increase, [it] will be less than 4 per cent overall which will be phased in over several years. In real terms, Suffolk’s schools will be lower funded than five years ago.”
The Suffolk Headteachers’ Association has joined with 13 other counties to highlight what it sees as the unfairness of the proposed NFF by encouraging heads to sign a letter to their local MP.
Richard Thomas, executive officer, said heads have long complained the existing formula left some areas, including Suffolk, with poorer funding than similar areas.
He added: “The Government proposed a new fairer funding system in 2013 but when we saw the proposed formula in late 2016 we knew that this was a complete U-turn. It was not new and was not fair and the Government had reneged on its promises.”
Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill said: “A new system of fairer funding must deliver for rural areas like Suffolk and seek to create a national formula which minimises the current discrepancies in funding.
“The inherent difficulties of this are undoubtedly challenging. However, I have and will continue to make the case for Suffolk schools to the Secretary of State for Education.”
The Department for Education says Government has protected the core schools budget in real terms since 2010 so it is now at a record high at more than £40 billion which will rise with pupil numbers to £42 billion by 2019-20.
A spokeswoman added: “The system for distributing that funding across the country is unfair, opaque and outdated. We are going to end the historic post code lottery in school funding and under the proposed NFF, more than half of England’s schools will receive a cash boost.
“We are consulting schools, governors, local authorities and parents to make sure we get this formula right. In Suffolk school funding would go up by 2.7 per cent, by over £10 million, if the proposed new funding formula were implemented.”
Leading headteachers in Bury St Edmunds have voiced serious concerns: Geoff Barton, Vicky Neale and Kate Pereira are among thousands of headteachers nationwide to have signed a letter, which has been sent to MPs, opposing the Government’s new National Funding Formula.
The heads in Bury say that while this aim is ‘laudable’, there is not enough money in the system and the new framework fails to take inflation and other cost pressures into account.
The NUT predicts King Edward VI School will lose £505,171 by 2019/20 – a drop of five per cent per pupil in real terms.
Head Geoff Barton said the idea of a new fairer funding formula was needed.
“But the problem is that there isn’t enough money in the system already, especially with many more students in secondary schools,” he said.
“Independent research shows there will be a shortfall of £3 billion between now and 2020.
“All schools – including King Edward’s – will therefore be looking to make major cuts, and the only way of achieving the necessary reductions will be increasing class sizes and cutting courses at GCSE and A-level.”
The NUT projects County Upper School will be dealt a funding blow of £210,236 by 2020 – a drop of nine per cent per pupil in real terms.
Head Vicky Neale said: “The aim is laudable but the key thing is that the pot of money is too small whether you redistribute it more fairly or not – it isn’t enough.
“I’ve never signed a letter like that before ever but I think the funding is at the most critical I can remember.”
She said there were now other pressures on the school budget including staff pay rises as well as increases in employer contributions to pensions and national insurance.
“We’ve been relatively fortunate because we’ve got a big successful sixth form so we haven’t had to cut subjects,” Mrs Neale added.
“At the moment we’re not looking at staff cuts. Given 80 per cent of school budgets are staffing, if you’re forced year on year to be cutting then you’re going to have to look at your staff.”
At St Benedict’s Catholic School, the NUT is predicting cuts of £235,974 by 2020 – a drop of seven per cent per pupil in real terms.
Head Kate Pereira said that while a new funding formula was needed, the Government was going the wrong way about it. She said: “It doesn’t take inflation into consideration.
“The Department for Education needs to provide a clear breakdown of what it actually costs to fund each child in school adequately to convert that into a minimum school funding guarantee.”
The trust that runs two Mildenhall academies fears Government plans to change the way schools are funded will ‘have significant impacts’.
According to the NUT figures the Academy Transformation Trust’s (ATT) Mildenhall College Academy will face a real terms cut of three per cent per pupil and Great Heath seven per cent. Mike Giddings, ATT director of finance, said: “Like all academy trusts, we have had to deal with significant funding cuts over the past three years as well as significant staff cost increases like National Insurance, teachers’ pensions and LGPS.
“All of these increases have added up to our academies having more than 10 per cent less money to spend on educating the children.
“National Fair Funding does help to contra some of the fall of 10 per cent, but on our initial estimates this will be closer to one per cent.
“We recognise that unless the Department for Education changes the way that schools are funded, these cuts will have significant impacts on the way our academies will be resourced in future.”
The NUT says St Mary’s Academy in Mildenhall would lose nine per cent per pupil in real terms by 2019/20, St Christopher’s Primary, Red Lodge, seven per cent; West Row Primary seven per cent; Beck Row Primary four per cent and Lakenheath Primary two per cent.
Thetford Academy faces an eight per cent reduction or £454 per pupil which is equivalent to losing 13 teachers, says the NUT.
Iceni Academy, in Methwold, and IES Breckland, in Brandon, are both set for a six per cent cut, £270 and £199 per pupil respectively.
Some primary schools, meanwhile, will be even harder hit with the NUT predicting 13 per cent cuts per pupil for Thetford’s Redcastle Family School and Diamond Academy and the town’s Queensway Infant School and Drake Primary School both facing cuts of 12 per cent.
A spokesman for the Inspiration Trust, which runs Thetford Academy, said: “The funding position for schools is tough but the reality is that we are doing everything we can to protect frontline teaching.”
He added that under the Department for Education’s figures, the proposed new formula would actually see the academy’s budget increase.
Dave Lee-Allan, head of Stowmarket High School, said: “We fully oppose the Government’s policy not only with regards to the National Funding Formula but the desire to invest in free schools and grammar schools.”
“All schools have had to make enormous savings and call on every resources we can to balance our budgets. I find it absurd and insulting when the Government continues to trot out the line that school funding has never been higher.
“We are under constant pressure to raise standards but the Funding Formula will make this even more difficult than ever. Quite frankly, it is heartbreaking,”
Under the new proposals, which are designed to fund education based on pupils needs rather than postcodes, Stowmarket High School will receive an extra £160,000 a year. However, Mr Lee-Allan says this will quickly be swallowed by school running costs such as salaries, pensions, building maintenance and doesn’t account for inflation.
He says the figures released by the National Union of Teachers are more realistic. The NUT says the school will suffer a six per cent drop per pupil in real terms by 2019/20 while Stowupland High School will suffer an eight per cent drop.
The consultation process on the formula closed on Wednesday.