New funding formula for English schools is 'recycling', say heads

Richard Adams Education editor
Justine Greening called the changes ‘the biggest improvement in the school funding system for decades’. Photograph: David Mirzoeff/PA

The government has unveiled the details of its new national funding formula for schools in England but headteachers have accused it of “recycling” the funds from other parts of the education budget.

Justine Greening, the education secretary, told parliament schools would get an increase of 0.5% per pupil from the next school year, and a 1% increase from 2019-20, confirming the £1.3bn increase in funding she announced back in July.

Schools would also be set minimum funding levels, including £3,500 per pupil at primary schools and a previously announced minimum of £4,800 per pupil at secondary schools – meaning that some poorly funded schools will receive welcome relief.

Greening also pledged that the national funding formula would see cash going directly to schools from 2020 onwards, rather than through a formula decided by local authorities, as part of an effort to iron out longstanding inequities in school funding between different parts of the country.

“This is an historic reform. It means, for the first time, the resources that the government is investing in our schools will be distributed according to a formula based on the individual needs and characteristics of every school in the country,” Greening told MPs.

“Addressing these simple but damaging inequalities will represent the biggest improvement in the school funding system for decades.”

While headteachers welcomed the use of a national formula, they said they were disappointed at the lack of additional funds to reflect rising costs in schools since 2015.

“The fundamental problem is there is not enough funding going into education,” said Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders and a former secondary school head.

“The additional £1.3bn announced by Justine Greening in July was a step in the right direction. But schools have already suffered huge cuts and the additional funding is nowhere near enough to prevent further cuts.

“And the £1.3bn comes with the caveat that it is one-off funding split over two years, recycled from elsewhere in the education budget.”

The £1.3bn includes £300m from the healthy pupil capital funding programme, financed by the soft drink levy.

Barton said his organisation calculated that schools needed a further £2bn a year between now and 2020 just to keep pace with budget cuts.

The new figures released by the Department for Education (DfE) showed the most underfunded schools getting rises of 3% per pupil in 2018-19 and 2019-20, along with a £110,000 lump sum for every school for fixed costs, and £26m for rural schools.

Greening’s initial announcement was widely criticised by Conservative MPs, unhappy that schools in their constituencies had not fared as well as they had hoped, and in some cases had actually had their funding cut.

Labour responded to Greening’s announcement by saying schools would still suffer real-terms cuts in their budgets, despite the new national formula.

“It does not go nearly far enough to meet the Tories’ own election promises and is far less than Labour pledged in our manifesto,” Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, said.

“For many pupils and schools, funding will fall in real terms between now and 2020, which comes on top of a £2.7bn cut in real terms since 2015.

“There is no new money for education at all, and this funding for schools is coming from other cuts to education budgets.”

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