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Funding reforms trigger school budget cuts

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Education funding reforms have forced Conservative-controlled Lancashire CC to top-slice £3m from its schools budget and slash thousands more from the budgets of schools in its most deprived areas.

The top-slice will see £19 per pupil taken out of every school, academy and free school budget in the area to plug gaps in education budgets for over-16s with special educational needs.

The shortfall follows a shake-up in the national funding system for over-16s with special educational needs.

The authority revealed its course of action in its official response to a wider Department for Education review of rules that came into effect at the beginning of this month.

Lancashire’s report warns that schools in its poorest areas have been hit hardest by the rules, which restrict local discretion in the allocation of deprivation funding.

Under the new system, locally set criteria that previously determined how councils distributed school funding are to be replaced by criteria set nationally by Whitehall.

Although academies and free schools are funded directly from Whitehall, they will be affected by the changes because under the new system the same funding formula - which incorporates the £19 per pupil reduction - is applied to all schools. It has been agreed by a schools forum on which academies are represented.

“The schools in Lancashire serving the most deprived areas have found a reduction in funding levels … some have lost tens of thousands of pounds in deprivation funding in 2013-14,” the reports says.

The DfE launched the review of its policy in response to complaints from several large Conservative-run councils that the loss of local discretion could threaten the viability of small schools.

The previous regime had allowed councils to attach extra funds to cover small schools’ higher per-pupil running cost.

Describing the need for local freedoms, Lancashire pointed to one school where 20% of pupils come from a traveller community. This community stays in the area from October to May each year only.

The response says the DfE’s new formula does not allow the council to fund these pupils because it is based on a school census that takes place in September before these pupils arrive.

The council had previously used a special mechanism to address the complexities of the school’s ­situation. But this is no longer permitted.

Susie Charles (Con), Lanchashire’s cabinet member for schools told LGC: “This is a centralised system. We want to revert to a locally set system so we can make sure schools get the funding they need.”

Other authorities have also called for changes to the centralised system.

In its response to the review, Somerset CC calls for councils to be put in charge of allocating funds to academies, claiming the move would create ­”efficiencies”.

A spokesman for the DfE said: “[We] are considering whether any changes need to be made [to school funding] for 2014-15.”

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