New funding system leaves schools worse off, say headteachers

CREDIT: This story was first seen in The Guardian

Poll finds 90% of heads had to use cash for disadvantaged pupils to prop up budgets, The Guardian reports.

A majority of headteachers say a new funding system introduced this year to iron out budget inequities between schools in different areas has left them worse off, a poll has found.

Despite the introduction of the national funding formula (NFF) in April, school leaders reported that their budgets were still in crisis, with 80% of schools having to cut numbers of teaching assistants and support staff, and 60% removing teaching posts to balance budgets.

The survey of 1,500 headteachers by the lobbying campaign Worth Less? found 90% of schools are having to dip into dedicated funding to support the most disadvantaged children, known as the pupil premium, to keep their budgets afloat. Half of respondents said they used more than 50% of pupil premium money in this way.

Schools have been highlighting real-terms funding cuts for a number of years, but the survey addressed budgets since the introduction of the NFF, which was designed to ease the pressure on schools in areas that had been historically underfunded through a national calculation for allocating funding.

It found that 15% of schools thought they were better off in real terms under NFF, while 60% said they are worse off. The poll also flagged up widespread future budget uncertainty, with 90% of heads saying they had no financial certainty for “meaningful financial planning” beyond a year under the NFF.

As well as staff cuts, respondents to the survey said they had been forced to trim their curricular offer, IT, books and building repairs, and many reported that recruitment and retention of teachers had never been more challenging.

Jules White, the headteacher of Tanbridge House school in Horsham, West Sussex, and a key figure in the Worth Less? campaign, said: “In spite of prolonged rhetoric from the government, headteachers from schools and academies are stating unequivocally that their budgets remain in crisis and that teacher recruitment and retention has never been harder.

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“The fact that 90% of schools are using money that should be serving our most disadvantaged pupils and families to ‘prop up’ their basic core budgets provides a stark reality as to how bad things are.”

School funding was a key issue during the general election, when parents and teachers joined forces to highlight the impact of funding cuts. The government responded by recycling £1.3bn from the Department for Education’s existing budget to be put into frontline spending on schools, but despite this and the NFF, schools are feeling the pinch.

More than 90% of headteachers in the Worth Less? survey said they thought the DfE had “no realistic idea of how much it costs to effectively run a school”, while 80% of those who contribute to the apprenticeship levy, which further eats into school budgets, do not feel they get any benefit from it.

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