New school funding system “stands to be good for Norfolk”

The government has launched a consultation on school funding.

The government has launched a consultation on school funding. - Credit: PA

It is a problem local headteachers have bemoaned for years: the huge gap between the money their schools receive compared to areas like London.

The difference runs into thousands of pounds per pupil, but although the issue has long been acknowledged in principal, addressing it has proved to be much more difficult in practice, with politicians fearing the electoral consequences of taking money from some areas to give to others.

Last year, the Conservative manifesto promised 'we will make schools funding fairer', and today education leaders are digesting the first stage of a government consultation that aims to deliver this pledge.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said: 'I think this stands to be good for Norfolk, and for Norwich within Norfolk. I'm keen to see the right amount of funding go to the most disadvantaged pupils in particular.'

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How does our region currently fare?

Schools in our region receive thousands of pounds less per pupil compared to the best-funded parts of the country.

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The best-funded local authorities are in London, where many boroughs receive more than £6,000 per pupil. In contrast, areas such as Wokingham and Poole receive little more than £4,000.

Our region lies somewhere in between, helped somewhat by the previous coalition government's decision in 2014 to channel extra funding to areas including Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, while not fundamentally changing the system.

Norfolk currently sits near the average funding for local authorities, receiving just over £4,500 per pupil this year, while Suffolk and Cambridgeshire are in the bottom third.

What is the government planning?

The amount of funding different areas receive is the result of decisions that accumulated over the years, and schools with similar characteristics can receive widely differing amounts purely because of where they are.

In the consultation document, education minister Sam Gyimah said: '[The school funding system] is out of date, arbitrary and unfair. Schools receive very different levels of funding, often for no good reason. There is no level playing field: it matters where you live.'

The government's solution is 'to move to a system whereby a pupil would attract the same amount of funding to his or her school no matter where they are in the country', by introducing a national funding formula to be phased in from 2017.

The formula will be built on four 'building blocks':

- per-pupil costs - a minimum amount schools will receive for each child, meaning their funding will rise with pupil numbers;

- additional needs - extra funding for pupils who need extra support, such as those from deprived backgrounds;

- school costs - every school will receive a lump sum, which will benefit those with fewer pupils, and there will be a sparsity factor, helping schools in more rural areas

- geographic costs - will be used to reflect the fact that some areas, such as London, have higher living costs.

What will it mean for our region?

There has long been an assumption that a 'fair funding formula' would signal a shift in resources from urban to rural areas, with our region one of the winners.

While that is certainly the hope of local schools and councils, the government has delayed announcing how schools and local authorities could be affected.

The current consultation is looking at the main principals of the formula, while a second consultation, to be launched later, will outline the effect on schools and local authorities.

Critics have alleged the delay is designed push the issue past May's mayoral election in London, an area that is expected to lose money. It is a claim the Department for Education has rejected.

Any change to funding could make a big difference to schools, which are facing tighter budgets because of increased costs of pensions and national insurance contributions.

Changing role of the local authority

The consultation heralds another reduction in the role of the local councils in education. Currently, they decide how funding is distributed between schools in their area; under the proposed national funding formula, schools would receive their money direct from the government.

This is already the case with academies, and Norfolk County Council welcomed the proposed change.

A council spokesman said: 'Already funding allocated for academies is allocated nationally so bringing all schools in line with this process makes sense.

'Local authorities would still distribute funding for pupils with high needs and the funding formula would mean the higher the need, the greater the funding.'

What happens next?

The first stage of the government consultation is open until April 17, and will be followed by a second stage, which will look at more details proposals.

Ministers say they want to start introducing the new system in 2017-18, with two years of transition until it comes fully into effect in 2019-20.

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