London boroughs fear bigger classes and fewer teachers at 1,500 schools

London boroughs fear bigger classes and fewer teachers at 1,500 schools

CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Guardian

More than 1,500 schools in London will move to larger class sizes and fewer teachers under the government’s proposed national funding formula, according to forecasts by boroughs in the capital that predict they will suffer cuts of £360m in the first year, the Guardian reports.

London Councils, a bipartisan group representing 32 local authorities and the City of London, says the formula proposed by the education secretary, Justine Greening, will cut budgets at 70% of London schools at a time when they are already enduring a funding freeze and increased costs for wages, pensions and inflation.

“London is facing a double whammy,” said Claire Kober, the leader of Haringey council and deputy chair of London Councils. “Like schools all over the country, they have increasing costs. On top of that, the national funding formula is being devised and implemented at a time of austerity.”

The London local authorities are calling on Greening to revise the national funding formula “to better reflect London’s needs and to avoid a decrease in educational standards”.

The councils want the government to find a further £335m a year to ensure no schools are worse off nationally after the new formula is introduced.

The chances of the formula being rewritten increased after surprise criticism from the F40 group of mainly Conservative MPs and councils that had long lobbied for a new funding formula to help schools in rural and shire areas.

Ivan Ould, F40’s chair, said his group’s enthusiasm for the formula “has to be tempered by an outcome that none of us really anticipated: that some poorly funded authorities will not gain and that many schools, both primary and secondary, within poorly funded authorities will lose out”.

Alex Chalk, the Conservative MP for Cheltenham and vice-chair of F40, said: “The formula that officials have come up with needs some work, as it falls short of delivering true fairness.”

The education secretary endured complaints from Tory backbenchers in parliament earlier this week.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the Conservative MP for the Cotswolds, said two-thirds of schools in his region would be worse off under the new formula, telling Greening “it needs a radical overhauling”.

Kober said London Councils did not dispute the need for a more equitable formula to end funding imbalances, with some areas receiving as much as £6,000 per pupil and others about £4,000.

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“The trouble is that the winners haven’t won as much as they thought and the losers are getting less at the same time as real terms cuts elsewhere,” Kober said.

According to London Councils, the impact of the funding freeze, rising costs and the new formula will force state schools in the city to find savings of £360m in the first year of the new formula, including £19m directly as a result of its introduction.

The councils state in their submission to the Department for Education’s consultation: “As around 70% of a school’s budget is spent on staff salaries, funding reductions are likely to result in fewer teachers and support staff posts in schools, as well as increased class sizes.

“This is significant because top quality teachers who are motivated and highly skilled are the main reason that children make progress and achieve good results in their education.”

It notes that London already struggles to recruit and retain teachers because of the high cost of living.

Boasting that “London’s schools are the best in the country ”, the submission says state schools in the capital have high rates of disadvantage, yet its school have the highest GCSE pass rates of any region in England, including among pupils on free school meals.

But the DfE defends the proposals, saying school funding is currently based on “patchy and inconsistent decisions that have built up over many years and on data that is over a decade old”.

A DfE spokesperson said that London was becoming more affluent but still had the highest proportion of children from a deprived background and the highest labour market costs.

“That is why it will remain the highest funded part of the country under our proposals, with inner London schools being allocated 30% more funding per pupil than the national average,” the DfE said.

However, the department has lost a tussle with the Treasury over £384m originally earmarked for converting failing schools into academies. But the policy was ended last year and the Treasury has now clawed back the funds.

Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “It is inappropriate that at a time when school budgets are being pushed beyond breaking point that the government is seeking to take further money away from them.”