I – and my fellow Labour colleagues in St Thomas – are very worried about the financial future of our local schools.
Yesterday the National Audit Office [NAO] published a report on the Financial Sustainability of Schools which concluded that the Department of Education [DfE]’s approach to managing the risks to schools’ financial sustainability cannot be judged to be effective or providing value for money until more progress is made, according to the National Audit Office.
The DfE’s overall schools budget is protected in real terms but does not provide for funding per pupil to increase in line with inflation. In the 2015 Spending Review, the government increased the schools budget by 7.7% from £39.6 billion in 2015-16 to £42.6 billion in 2019-20. While this increase protects the total budget from forecast inflation, the Department estimates that the number of pupils will rise over the same period, by 3.9% (174,000) in primary schools and by 10.3% (284,000) in secondary schools. Therefore, funding per pupil will, on average, rise only from £5,447 in 2015-16 to £5,519 in 2019-20, a real-terms reduction once inflation is taken into account.
In the accompanying press release, Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said:“Mainstream schools have to make £3.0 billion in efficiency savings by 2019-20 against a background of growing pupil numbers and a real-terms reduction in funding per pupil. The Department is looking to schools to finance high standards by making savings and operating more efficiently but has not yet completed its work to help schools secure crucial procurement and workforce savings. Based on our experience in other parts of government, this approach involves significant risks that need to be actively managed. Schools could make the ‘desirable’ efficiencies that the Department judges feasible or could make spending choices that put educational outcomes at risk. The Department, therefore, needs effective oversight arrangements that give early warning of problems, and it needs to be ready to intervene quickly where problems do arise.”
This report reflects some of the concerns raised by 2 of the teaching unions – National Union of Teachers [NUT] and Association of Teachers & Lecturers [ATL] – when they launched their interactive map at the beginning of November.
In March 2016, the DFE have released plans for a Fairer Funding Formula by which existing school budgets – without any increase – will be redistributed from HM Treasury. An increase in costs for schools and inflation have not been taken into account meaning that the majority of schools are left with a real terms financial cut.
The infographics below show what is expected to happen to local schools in and around St Thomas if, under the guise of this *fairer funding*, Theresa May and education secretary Justine Greening intend only to shift the already inadequate overall school funding around the country, rather than do the right thing – which is to increase it and ensure the most disadvantaged benefit.
For many years, Devon has been one of the lowest funded Local Education Authorities in England. In 2016/17, Devon received a Schools Block Unit of Funding [SBUF] of £4,346 per pupil compared with a national average of £4,636 – a shortfall of £290 per pupil, which is equivalent to £25.5m across the Local Education Authority’s for their 88,065 pupils.
The NUT/ATL calculations show that schools in Devon could be facing additional cuts of 5%, on average a cut of £205 per child.
The three primary schools serving St Thomas primaries will lose between £62,456 and £169,462. In the case of Montgomery Primary School this is predicted to be £132,805 or £350 per child, and the equivalent of 4 qualified teachers. This is totally unacceptable – education budgets must adequately reflect the invaluable work of local schools and teachers.
But it isn’t only me that is concerned – recently the Devon Association of Primary Headteachers [DAPH] and Devon Association of Secondary Heads [DASH] wrote jointly to MPs [including this one to Ben Bradshaw MP] and local councillors on behalf of primary and secondary schools collectively, drawing attention to a Devon wide campaign to raise awareness of the funding crisis in Devon schools.
As well as the Fairer Funding Formula, the letter covers the pressures of rising costs, the effect of the Apprenticeship Levy, the change to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities [SEND] Code of Practice putting additional pressure on the High Needs Block Funding [HNBF], and anticipated falls in contingency reserves.
The letter concludes: “Put simply, this translates into a very real probability that schools can longer longer continue to sustain high quality provision of education and essential support for every pupil without the urgent necessity to take some very undesirable, as well as far-reaching, decisions to reduce costs in order to balance the finite resources available. Sadly, the implications of these decisions will undoubtably impact upon the children in our care, including those from some of our most vulnerable families, and these will ultimately manifest further into the wider community.”
House of Commons Library: Briefing Paper SN06702 School funding in England. Current system and proposals for ‘fairer school funding’ [21 November 2016]
National Audit Office: Financial sustainability of schools – Executive Summary [14 December 2016]