Will Marlborough schools lose out despite government's new funding formula?
The Government's plans for a fairer funding formula for England's schools has come under attack from six unions involved in education. Based on government figures their School Cuts campaign estimates that by 2019 ninety-eight per cent of schools face real term reductions in their annual funding budgets.
They estimate - for instance - that for 2019/20 St John's Academy's annual budget will be cut by £618,556 or a drop of £483 per pupil [see illustration below.] This they say is equivalent to the loss of fifteen teachers.
Their picture for the whole of Wiltshire shows an eye-watering drop in funding of £17,165,812 by 2019 - equivalent to a cut of £284 per pupil. This, they calculate, could lead to the loss of 460 teaching jobs.
Their analysis is published on an interactive campaigning website which allows you to search for schools in the your area.
The new funding scheme was announced shortly before Christmas and is now out to public consultation until 22 March. It is due to be introduced in April 2018 with a 'soft' or transitional scheme, followed by what they call a 'hard' introduction in 2019.
Its aim was to even out funding which had been tilted toward urban schools on the grounds of their greater costs - such as attracting good staff, higher maintenance costs, the greater need to supply support services for poorer pupils and often the lack of adjacent playing fields.
The government published figures for the first year of the new system. The unions have calculated the amount of funding for schools for 2019/20 by capping the maximum increase from 2018/19 to 2019/20 at the 2.5 per cent announced in December's ministerial statement. All their figures are in 2016/17 prices.
To return to the Marlborough area: the campaigners say that Preshute Primary School's budget will potentially fall by £77,544 by 2019 - a drop of £380 per pupil.
However the analysis has treated St Peter's Junior School ('not expected to lose money') and St Mary's Infants (predicted to lose £13,711 a year) separately - rather than as the combined Marlborough St Mary's Primary School that will be well established by 2019.
A Briefing Paper published last week by the House of Commons Library does not criticise the unions' figures, but it does point out that their "estimates are expressed in real terms, per pupil, not in cash terms as is the case for the illustrative figures published alongside the [Department for Educatioin's] December 2016 school funding consultation."
That rural schools like Marlborough's will potentially be facing such cuts is not how the 'fairer funding' was supposed to work.
Devizes MP Claire Perry has been campaigning for a fairer funding formula for Wiltshire's schools. In December Mrs Perry wrote about "...the welcome announcement that the Government has finally committed to address the historic school funding anomalies that have meant Wiltshire school children receive less money per head than others in many other parts of the country."
She explained that Wiltshire Council was 'working through the detail' of the plans and there was more work to do before the consultation closed "...to understand the real impact, but it is a clear step in the right direction."
Marlborough.News cannot corroborate or verify the unions' figures. It may be that when 'the real impact' becomes clearer rural schools will just be losing less than many urban schools. 'Fairness' is a relative concept.
Marlborough.News is seeking a response from the 'f40' campaign group which has been lobbying for the change for many years.
The f40 website states: "Our campaign has the direct support of forty one local authorities and their School Forums – but is also backed by hundreds of Members of Parliament representing poorly funded areas; thousands of individual elected councillors and council officers; countless headteachers, teachers and governors; trade union members; and parents." Wiltshire Council is a member.
The six unions mounting the School Cuts campaign are: the National Union of Teachers, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, GMB, UNITE, the National Association of Head Teachers and UNISON.
ADDED INFORMATION: An f40 spokesperson has now explained the group’s position for Marlborough.News - on the government’s new formula and on school funding pressures:
“Our primary concern has been to achieve fair funding for schools. As there is no additional funding being made available from the government, other than to support transitional arrangements, this means a redistribution of the existing total funding pot. It follows that this will mean that there will be winners and losers from any revised allocation arrangement.”
“The Unions are challenging the fair funding proposals and the size of the actual funding pot. This is confusing the issue, but we understand why they are campaigning in that way. The funding pressures facing schools are significant and will have to be funded eventually, just as they will be in the NHS.”
“But none of this should undermine the principle of fairer funding supported by f40 which is that pupils of similar characteristics should attract similar levels of funding wherever they are in the country (allowing for the area cost adjustment.)”
“It is disappointing to see that in its proposals for a new national funding formula, the government has continued use of averages, which reflect what LAs can currently afford to do, rather than a needs-based model.”