Funding formula delay piles on the pressure

There are two sides to the decision to delay the introduction of the new national funding formula.

For schools in poorly funded parts of the country the delay is a crippling blow. For those in well-funded areas it is a welcome delay of the inevitable cuts that such a development will bring.

As a trustee of two multi-academy trusts, one in a well-funded district and one in a poorly funded area, the delay underlines for me the stark inequity in the funding of schools in England.

Move a secondary school across a local authority boundary and there could be a funding difference of over £1 million. Given that most schools spend around three quarters of their budget on staffing that’s £750,000 of funding for teaching and learning.

The education system continues to undergo major structural change with academisation and the development of a ‘self-improving, school-led system’. This change is happening at a time when recruitment into teaching is a major issue, schools are dealing with the new KS2 SATs, the new GCSE curriculum, progress 8, attainment 8. Is there ever a good time for this kind of change? Probably not! 

There are schools all over the country facing these issues with no long term view of their financial position. Until a few months ago governors and trustees in the most poorly funded areas of the country will have been deciding what cuts to make and how much surplus money (if they had any) they should release to tide the school over until the promised equity of the new NFF. They will have made decisions based on a reasonable assumption at the time that a fair NFF would bring them some additional funding.

As someone that has managed and worked through major organisational and structural change three of the key things I want to see emerge from this is:

  1. a clear vision of what is being delivered;
  2. a timescale to work to; and
  3. a clarity over what funding I have at my disposal to deliver it.

Without this sort of information it will be almost impossible to make effective strategic decisions, create plans to grow and develop MATs and teaching school alliances, and attract people into the teaching profession.

I am excited by the potential of the school-led system and have every confidence that our school leaders can deliver it, but they need support. They need stability and they need long term visibility and not just equity of funding, but better funding.

We are in the position where The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has warned that school per-pupil funding could fall by 8 per cent by 2020. Funding for leadership and professional development has disappeared and TSA funding is disappearing and where it does exist we have no real idea what will happen in the future.

Policy makers need to look carefully at the impact this delay is having on an education system that is already under extreme pressure in both funding and relentless structural change and ask themselves: are we setting the system up to fail?

Phil Haslett
Business Development Director, Best Practice Network

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