School funding cuts to hit poorer areas harder, says Labour

Peter Walker Political correspondent
Labour says about half of all schools will face a reduction in per-pupil spending of 6-11% by 2019-20. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA

The proposed funding cuts in the government’s new spending formula for schools in England will disproportionately affect more deprived areas, according to a Labour analysis.

Labour compared Department for Education (DfE) data on the prevalence of pupils qualifying for free school meals against data from a study on the likely impact of the new funding formula published last month by the Education Policy Institute.

The research calculated that a combination of the new funding method, reduced local authority spending on schools and inflationary pressures, would lead to about half of all schools facing a reduction in per-pupil spending of between 6% and 11% by 2019-20.

The Labour analysis found the impact of the new spending formula on pupils qualifying for free school meals (FSM) – used as the standard measure for deprivation – was greater in poorer areas.

The DfE said the Labour analysis was misleading as it oversimplified some elements of the calculations, for example not taking into account the relative size of local authority areas, which skewed the findings.

In the north-east, Labour calculated that 21.3% of FSM pupils would lose out from the changes, with 16.5% gaining. In the West Midlands and London, 13.6% and 14% would gain funding in their schools, with 21% and 20.8% worse off.

Funding chart

In contrast, Labour said, 10.2% of FSM pupils in the south-east would get better funding with 9.9% losing out.

The analysis involved more detailed breakdowns in two areas, the north-east and London. In the former, Labour figures showed, local authorities set to gain from the new funding formula had an average of 16.5% FSM pupils, while areas predicted to see less money had a 21.3% FSM average.

There would be a similar disparity in London, with net gains for local authority areas having 14% of students on FSMs, while those losing out had 20.8% on FSMs.

Funding chart London

Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, said the figures showed the government was “failing in their pledge to build a country that works for everyone”.

She said: “The secretary of state’s so-called fair funding formula is neither fair nor funded, and she needs to look again at the impact that it will have on the most disadvantaged areas in our country before moving forward with it.”

The analysis heaps further pressure on the government amid widespread speculation the proposals could be dropped or amended, given disquiet among some Conservative backbenchers.

A consultation on the plans ended on 22 March. The DfE and Downing Street will assess the responses and make a decision. Theresa May’s spokesman has stressed that the government aims to listen to views on the issue, and “make sure we get it right this time”.

A DfE spokesman said: “This research is misleading and inaccurate. Our proposed national funding formula allocates more money to deprivation, a total of £5bn, and widens the definition so more pupils are included.

“This means more money for more schools in the most deprived areas of the country – ending the postcode lottery of the past.

“There is broad consensus on the need for a fairer funding formula and we have been consulting schools, governors, local authorities and parents and will carefully consider the responses to make sure we get the formula right.”

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