Schools funding shake-up - leaders voice concern
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press, Archant
Long-awaited reforms to schools funding which has historically left Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire short-changed do not address the squeeze on school finances, one of the region's leaders has said.
The three counties' funding will increase under the new funding formula unveiled by the Department for Education – but Suffolk's education chief warned they would still be worse funded than they were five years ago.
Under the plans Norfolk's central government allocation will initially rise 1pc in 2018/19, and then by 1.4pc when the new formula is fully implemented. In Suffolk the figure is 2pc rising to 3.9pc and Cambridgeshire will see a 1.2pc increase and then 1.8pc rise.
But even within the counties, figures published yesterday showed a mixed picture for our schools.
Ms Greening claimed in a statement to MPs that the proposed reforms would mean that schools and local authorities across England that have been underfunded for years will see their funding increase.
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But Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council's Cabinet Member for Children's Services, Education and Skills, said the announcement had been disappointing.
'Whilst Suffolk will see an increase in funding, the increase will be less than 4% which will be phased in over several years.
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'This will not compensate schools for the years that they have not had an inflationary increase in their funding. In real terms, Suffolk's schools will be lower funded than five years ago.
'It is promising that problems in the previous funding system have been recognised, however it must be acknowledged that there is still much work to be done. We do not feel that the announcement has fully addressed the inequality of funding across the country.'
The aim of the national funding formula is to ensure schools are funded based on the needs of pupils rather than by their postcode. The Government ran first stage consultations on national funding formulae for schools and high needs in March and April this year.
Ms Greening said a final stage of consultation will now take place on the Government's proposals before the formula is implemented.
Ms Greening said this support will come alongside the Government's commitment to maintaining the pupil premium for deprived children with the current rate protected for the rest of the Parliament.
Meanwhile, Ms Greening said small rural schools will also be protected under the proposals with the inclusion of a 'sparsity factor'.
The Education Secretary also said that more than £5 billion per year will be allocated for the funding of services for high needs children and that 'no local authority will see their funding reduce as a result of the formula being introduced'.
Consultation on the Government's funding formula is due to run for 14 weeks until March 22, with final decisions to be made before summer 2017 - and the final formula to be rolled out in 2018/19.
Cautious welcome from head teachers
The news was met with cautious optimism from the county's headteachers, tempered by the ongoing strains of rising costs and cuts.
Binks Neate-Evans, head teacher at West Earlham Infant and Nursery School, said: 'It's good news for many in that it is not a cut - but we shouldn't, however, be sending balloons up in the air because there are increasing costs which schools still have to face.
'Pension costs and national insurance contributions are rising and we are getting less funding, so for those benefitting it's more a case of slightly easing those strains.
'I think it's important to be cautious.'
Mrs Neate-Evans, who is also chairman of Norfolk Primary Headteachers' Association, said that historically the funding divide between rural areas and cities had been 'significant'.
It is a concern shared by Brian Conway, head teacher at Notre Dame High School in Norwich, who said: 'When I taught in London, up until 2005, the figure was about £6,000 per pupil. When I moved here to teach it was about £4,000 and that has not changed much.
'Historically Norfolk has always been one of the poorly funded areas, which I think is in part how the area ended up in a difficult situation with its education.'
He said work has long been ongoing to correct what many describe as an 'injustice'.
'In principle supporting areas which have been left behind in the past is positive as it restores some of the equality, but in reality it will only mitigate the challenges schools are facing,' he said.
'With increased costs, these changes will actually make it harder for some schools elsewhere, such as in London, and benefit schools here ever so slightly.'