'Stay brave' on school funding, ministers urged

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Some pupils face a limited curriculum, warn governors

The government should “stay brave” over its new school funding deal in England, says the chief executive of the National Governors’ Association.

Emma Knights says the formula is fair but schools face underlying money problems.

Ministers say the biggest school funding shake-up in decades will end “unfair” and “inconsistent” funding.

But BBC research involving 4,000 school governors has revealed the extent of schools’ current financial problems.

“Everybody pretty much agrees that the principle of the formula is right,” said Ms Knights, speaking as the consultation period on the plan closed.

Is school funding the next crisis?

Big city schools hit in funding crisis

But, she said lack of money in the education system overall meant some schools that had expected to gain under the new funding formula would in fact lose.

“People do understand that the current system can’t be defended and we do need a way of making sure we are distributing money across the country fairly.”

But underlying cash problems in schools had meant “even more controversy than was expected”, she said.

Her comments coincide with a separate report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that calls the proposals “broadly sensible” but warned of “significant winners and losers” with some schools facing “protracted cuts”.

“Implementing this reform at a time when there is already considerable pressure on school budgets will inevitably be difficult,” the IFS warns.

What do schools say?

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Music is one of the subjects facing cuts

The difficulties being faced by schools across England were spelled out by governors who responded to a BBC questionnaire.

“Diabolical”, “devastating” and “catastrophic” were among the words used. Some governors described their “desperate” attempts at fundraising to fill gaps while others explained that many subjects were being lost, particularly at sixth form level.

  • “We are just about holding things together. If it wasn’t for the changes in the funding formula we would be making teaching assistants redundant,” said the governor of a Warwickshire school
  • “We will provide a very vanilla curriculum,” said a governor from Ipswich worried about the number of subjects being cut
  • A Norwich governor talked of “a potentially devastating impact on behaviour support, family liaison and mental health support.”
  • In Halifax, one governor said they were considering shortening the school day
  • Efforts to raise extra cash included selling off school land, letting out facilities and raising sponsorship from local businesses – and one governor said their school was running a music festival
  • But many felt limited: “We are in a deprived area – many of our parents are using food banks,” said a governor from Blackburn
  • Others felt anything they could raise would be “a drop in the ocean” against huge deficits

How much cash is left for classes?

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Some schools are making great efforts to raise extra cash

The underlying financial problems faced by state schools in England were highlighted in a National Audit Office report in December last year.

The spending watchdog said schools would have to find £3bn in savings by 2019-20, amounting to budget cuts of 8%.

The funding formula was announced in the same month by Education Secretary Justine Greening.

Since then it has drawn criticism from councillors, head teachers, education unions and parents – and Conservative MPs in areas due to lose out have warned that the plans may not make it through Parliament.

The government says its plan includes protections until 2019-20 to ensure that no schools will lose more than 6% of their budgets in real terms but the IFS says these safeguards will need to remain for longer.

Ms Knights said the new formula had shown up a shortfall “in the basic building block to educate a child”.

“So actually we are saying we need more per pupil in every school across England and that of course is a different issue.

“That’s about the amount of money we need rather than how we distribute it across the country.”

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