Norfolk education leaders welcome DfE promise to review funding reform

PUBLISHED: 09:18 16 October 2012 | UPDATED: 09:39 16 October 2012

Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children's services at Norfolk County Council.

Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children's services at Norfolk County Council.

Keith Whitmore +44 (0)7785 354701

Norfolk education leaders have welcomed a government promise to review its controversial funding reforms after the first year “if it finds that the long-term consequences for schools are unacceptable”.

Changes to the way money is allocated to schools and academies are due to kick in from 2013 as part of ministers’ attempts to make the system simpler, fairer and more transparent.

But concerns have been raised across the country by counties like Norfolk, with a mixture of urban and rural communities and a large number of small schools, who believe the plans could have a “catastrophic” effect on small schools.

Sarah Healey, director of the education funding group at the department for education, has now written to the directors of children’s services at all local authorities to provide reassurance.

The letter promises to review the arrangements and make further changes in 2014-15, the year after they are implemented.

It also confirms that the minimum funding guarantee, which will ensure any individual school’s funding does not drop by more than 1.5pc a year as the changes are brought in, will be available until 2014-15 and, while not specifying what the figure would be, will continue beyond that too.

It follows a letter sent to education secretary Michael Gove by Norfolk County Council and a meeting between a Norfolk delegation led by MP Norman Lamb and education minister David Laws last week when concerns about the impact of the plans were raised.

Last night Alison Thomas, county council cabinet member for children’s services, said: “The government has clearly listened to the serious concerns that have been raised collectively here in Norfolk by head teachers, MPs and the county council. By working with our local MPs we have been able to make sure that ministers heard our concerns, and we should give them credit for coming up with a rapid and positive response. They have also said they will consult further with us on some of the unintended consequences of the funding formula.

“We will, of course, make sure that the promised protection is delivered, but we are optimistic that this is something the Department for Education wants to resolve.”

As they stand, the government plans would see some schools in this county lose up to 25pc of their budget or more than £736,000.

But Alastair Ogle, head at Alderman Peel High School, in Wells, said he had been reassured by the announcement. “We are pleased that the Department for Education have listened to our concerns and will be reviewing the National Funding Formula and its implementation,” he said.

A DfE spokesman said: “The department hopes that this letter provides local authorities, schools, teachers and governors with reassurance that the reform to the school funding system will be introduced very carefully, and, as the secretary of state promised in March, at a pace which is manageable.”

North Norfolk MP Mr Lamb added: “I am delighted that David [Laws] has taken on board what we had to say. Clearly it is important that the pace of reform is manageable, and that schools are in a position to plan their finances over the next few years.”

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