As part of the ongoing campaign, earlier this year, I raised Fair Funding with both the Education Secretary and Mrs May, on the floor of the Commons, securing a commitment to address the issue of a minimum funding level for schools as part of the Fair Funding consultation.
Fair Funding is important for our local schools. However I should stress that "Fair Funding" does not mean equal funding. The purpose of "Fair Funding" is not to channel more money to historically lower-funded areas but to match funding to need. The formula is transparent and is fair to the extent that every child with identical characteristics, wherever they live in England, will receive the same funding, adjusted in part by local costs. The largest element of funding allocation is a straight forward per pupil “base level”. Beyond this funds are largely allocated on pupil-led factors to support pupils that face entrenched barriers to success in school. Low prior attainment, speaking English as a second language, deprivation, all impact the ability of pupils to succeed (and can have a wider impact on a class if this isn't tackled by proper resourcing). I have not yet met a Headteacher in Horsham or elsewhere that disagrees with this analysis or believes that it should not be reflected in the national funding structure.
In reality, however, given why it is distributed Horsham schools are unlikely to receive as high a level of pupil-led incremental funding as in most other areas of the country. This is why I have been, throughout, particularly focussed on the level of basic funding and its sufficiency.
The original Fair Funding formula, announced subject to consultation, overall benefitted our local schools and I supported it in principle but wished to see amendments – in particular to underline total per pupil funding.
On 18th July the Education Secretary announced changes to the NFF in the House of Commons. I attended and, at my request, met the Education Secretary to discuss details on 19th July before meeting with local Headteachers on 20th and 21st July.
I was very pleased with many of the elements of the announcement.
Most importantly over the next two years £1.3bn of Education Department resources are being diverted to frontline school funding and high needs. As a result not only will more money be spent on schools than ever before but the amount being spent per pupil (at a time of increasing school roles) will be protected. This increase will be primarily applied to the base element, further increasing its importance in the totality school budgets. Not only is the increase in frontline funding positive for our schools but the way it is distributed will enhance this benefit.
The rate of improvement in the funding for local schools that are befitting from the formula will also be accelerated.
Overall the Education Secretary has specified that, taking into account total funding, no Secondary School will receive less than £4,800 per pupil in two years’ time. This for me is an important step – providing a base line level. It is important for now but also as a marker for the future.
While all local Secondaries always benefitted from the new formula many local Primaries (given the workings of the previous county-wide formula) in relative terms lost out. The announcement made clear that the formula has been amended to ensure that no school will lose out from its introduction in cash terms – indeed they will continue to receive small funding increases.
I would have liked to hear more detail about Primary Schools in the announcement and have flagged this with the Secretary of State. The Department has more work to do between now and releasing in September the full impact, school by school, of the revised formula and I expect to hear more in due course. However the announcement of a minimum anticipated per pupil funding level for Secondaries I believe is a helpful precedent for ongoing discussions on the impact of funding changes on other schools.
Locally we have new schools being planned to meet the needs of our expanding population. I have received assurances that none of these (which have been approved in principle and are currently going through the school financing/planning stage with the Education Department) will be adversely effected by the redirection of resources to support current school resources.
Funding is only half of the equation for schools. The other half, naturally, is costs.
There has been an increase in school costs which has led to tightening school budgets. The cost pressures are real albeit that few would dispute the need for the extra spending – for example in respect of teachers’ pay and pension increases. I believe that most schools locally are run very efficiently but the Department are also making available advisers to assist schools who believe they face particular budgetary pressure.
We will have more detail, school-by-school, come September. Immediate reactions locally to how this may impact school funding range from a £24 per pupil improvement to over 10 times that number. For school budgets much depends on cost factors. No one however doubts that the changes announced by the Education Secretary are a step in the right direction.
I believe, especially in the context of our fiscal situation, this announcement is indeed a significant improvement. I will of course be going through the fine detail in September, as will others, but I welcome the announcement.