At first sight, the government’s fairer school funding plan seems simple enough.
Under the proposals, around 9,000 schools in England will lose out, with money moving to schools in areas that have had less in the past.
So what’s the beef? Isn’t the national funding formula meant to close regional funding gaps? Won’t almost 11,000 schools be better off, with some seeing gains of up 5%?
Well, the first issue is about context. The formula was announced on the same day the National Audit Office warned schools in England were facing an 8% real terms cut in funding per pupil by 2019-20.
This could obliterate any perceived gain for schools in poorer regions. National Union of Teachers research shows the proposals will not be able to protect schools against cuts unless significant extra money is found. The union said every local authority in England, with the possible exception of Barnsley, will see real-terms cuts ranging from 2.3% in the currently lowest-funded authorities rising to more than 20% in some London boroughs.
Looming pressures like inflation and extra staff costs will drown regional increases from the proposals. Councils that lose out under the scheme will get a double whammy with the government’s funding freeze.
What about London? The capital isn’t quite the haven of privilege some imagine it is. London schools are the best performing in the country at GCSE level, with 80% being rated good or outstanding by Ofsted. Regions like rural South Gloucestershire and Dorset need funding. But some of the most deprived areas in the country are in London, where we see complex and concentrated clusters of multiple deprivation.
The city that hosted the Olympics has the highest rate of child poverty of any English region. A heart-stopping 592,000 London children live below the poverty line: 37% of all children in the capital, more poor children than in the whole of Scotland and Wales. London Councils estimates 29 of London’s 33 boroughs are at risk of losing funding that is likely to be transferred to less deprived areas.
The impact will be doubly bad for children from disadvantaged backgrounds who have special educational needs, or children in care. Those that benefit most from extra-curricular activities, breakfast and afterschool clubs, day trips and extra support will be hit hardest.
It’s no wonder schools all over the capital have hosted standing room-only meetings with seething parents. The demand from every platform in every London school has been the same: more money for all schools that need it, in and out of London.
Southwark councillor Catherine Rose (Lab) summed up what people are saying all over London when she spoke at such an event at the John Donne Primary School in Southwark: “We are not prepared to accept that children in our successful London schools will now be worth less from 2018 onwards. We shall be mobilising throughout the summer term to keep the pressure on the government to find the 1% of the total schools budget to fund all schools fairly.”
In case anyone puts this down to sentiment or special pleading, one last, pragmatic, question. With Brexit looming, should we be investing more or less in home-grown talent to secure our economic future?
- The consultation on school funding closes on 22 March in time for implementation in the 2017-18 academic year
Jasmine Ali, senior policy and research advisor, The Adolescent and Children’s Trust, co-chair, Alliance for Children and Care Leavers