Heads tell parents: you are still in a postcode lottery

CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Guardian

A letter from 4,000 heads across England says government’s new funding formula will do little to ease crisis in state schools, the Guardian reports.

Thousands of headteachers in England are writing to parents arguing that the government has failed to tackle a “postcode lottery” in which some schools receive hundreds of thousands of pounds less than others based on their location.

A letter from more than 4,000 heads across England will also tell families that the government’s new national funding formula will do little to solve the funding crisis affecting many state schools.

Schools in 17 counties intend to distribute the letter to parents this week, detailing the budget cuts that many schools will still face despite the pledge by Justine Greening, the education secretary, to secure an extra £1.3bn for the next two years.

Earlier this month, Greening told MPs the new funding formula was a historic reform that would “represent the biggest improvement in the school funding system for decades”.

The formula aims to end the uneven funding through local authorities that has resulted in some schools – particularly those in inner London – receiving thousands of pounds more per pupil than other areas.

Local authorities use different formulas to distribute funding in their area. For example, a secondary school pupil with low previous results would attract £2,000 in extra funding in Birmingham, compared with just £36 in Darlington.

The headteachers argue that Greening’s promised reforms would still uphold huge disparities in school budgets across the country.

‘Your child’s education will still be at the behest of a postcode funding lottery,’ the heads say in the letter. ‘We cannot suggest the new formula is in any way satisfactory. The finances of very low-funded schools are still insufficient to provide the service that your child needs.’

The headteachers put the inconsistency in funding down to the fact that the new formula is dependent on caps on how much a school gains or loses.

‘The caps are largely arbitrary and mean that any new per pupil funding is often based on the previously discredited formula,’ the letter says.

Calculations done by the heads found that – despite Greening’s promise of extra cash – the proposal amounts to a real-terms cut of 4.6% by 2020 compared with five years earlier.

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The headteachers are urging parents to lobby their MPs for improved funding, following similar lobbying efforts from heads at the end of the last school year, and from schools and unions during the election campaign.

The letter includes analysis of government statistics that reveal a secondary school in York would get an average of £4,700 per pupil in 2018-19, compared with £6,450 for a pupil in Greenwich, London – nearly £2.5m a year less for a school with 1,400 students.

Second worst-off among secondary schools were those in Barnsley, where schools get an average of £4,729 per pupil, followed by Leicester with £4,730.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education (DfE) said: “The national funding formula – backed by £1.3bn of investment – will mean that for the first time school funding will be distributed according to a formula based on the individual needs and characteristics of every school in the country.”

The DfE said no schools would lose funding as a result of the formula.

Labour’s Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, said the letter showed the government was still not giving schools the resources they needed. “There is no new money and every penny has been found by cutting the education budget elsewhere,” she said.

Since Greening’s announcement, a cascade of data has suggested that the funding changes will do little to lift the underlying budget pressures facing schools.

A parliamentary question tabled by Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, found that more than one in three schools in England ran an operating deficit last year, with hundreds of schools having had deficits for three or four years in a row.

Meanwhile, the education unions updated their campaigning website School Cuts to include the new national formula, and found that nearly nine out of 10 schools would see cuts in real terms by 2020.

According to the unions’ calculations, a typical primary school will be worse off annually by £52,546, and a typical secondary school will have lost £178,000 each year since 2015.

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