Headteachers write to MP Robert Halfon over funding crisis

Politics / Wed 8th Feb 2017 at 09:44am

EVERY headteacher in Harlow has written to Harlow MP, Robert Halfon, in order to raise awareness regarding funding cuts to the schools in Harlow.

YH went along to Passmores Academy to interview the Principal, Vic Goddard, in order to get a better idea of how serious the crisis is.

Dear Mr Halfon MP,

Fund the 8%

Along with other colleagues in your constituency I am contacting you with regard to school funding from April 2017 onwards. I am asking you to seek an increase in the overall allocation of money to all secondary schools and academies to enable them to meet the additional 8% costs they currently face so they can maintain and continue to improve the standard of education in Essex. In 2017 over 96% of secondary students attend Essex schools that are rated good or better by Ofsted and achieve results that are consistently above the national averages. I wish to maintain or improve our current standards and insist that the government uses taxpayers’ money to invest in our young people at a level which enables us to do this. Sadly, the proposals made under the new National Funding Formula do not provide a meaningful remedy to the problems outlined above. Whilst the formula itself provides greater transparency and fairness for schools across the country other significant factors, particularly those connected to core funding levels (3% protection cap and deprivation factors) and the introduction of huge unfunded cost burdens (stealth taxes on schools equivalent to 8% or more), have undermined the whole process. The proposal which is to redistribute the existing pot of money by a different formula once again perpetuates some schools being winners, whilst others will be losers.
Over the last five years schools have received a flat amount of funding for Key Stages 3 and 4. Post 16 funding for schools has been cut. During this period schools have faced significant increases in costs which have not been funded. These include:

1. Increased National Insurance contributions
2. Increased pension contributions for teaching and support staff
3. Mandatory salary uplifts for teachers and support staff
4. Cost of utilities rising in line with inflation
5. Costs of staff recruitment rising
6. Cost of supply teachers rising during period of teacher shortages in key subjects
7. Cost of changing curriculum at every level in every subject (teaching resources, updating facilities, staff training and planning time)
8. Cost in mental health provision in schools to support national crisis in youth mental health and staff wellbeing responsibilities.
9. Introduction of the apprenticeship levy
10. Reduction in the Education Services Grant (ESG)
11. Rising inflation

Along with other school leaders initially I was supportive of the introduction of a new funding formula. However, the National Funding Formula being proposed by the Government from 2018-19 will do little to address need rather than postcode because of the unfunded costs schools face and the protection element within the formula to soften the loss to those schools currently receiving AWPU at over £1500 per student above the Essex per student funding.
Four significant issues undermine the system:

1. There is less money in the system
2. Student numbers have risen meaning funding per student is going down.
3. Rising costs for schools
4. Because no more funding is being made available the formula has the impact of levelling down the money that comes to schools rather than topping up the worst funded schools to the same level as the best. In Essex more schools will lose funding than gain.

The fact remains, however, that no school in Essex has been offered any additional support for the financial year 2017/18. Even when the Department for Education’s own statistical projections are used, the majority of Essex schools are likely to find themselves in a worse financial position over the next 3 – 4 years.

All Essex secondary head teachers feel that the National Funding Formula consultation is a distraction from the real issue which is that schools and academies are now seriously underfunded.

Examples of the ways in which we have already managed these cuts and actions we will need to take in the very near future:

1. Teacher and support staff redundancies
2. Reducing the size of the Senior Leadership Team and therefore its capacity
3. Natural wastage (non-replacement of staff who leave) which reduces curriculum opportunities
4. Cutting student courses with smaller group sizes which are not cost effective, hence significantly reducing the curriculum offer to students
5. Increasing teacher contact time
6. Employment of non-qualified teachers
7. Reductions in teaching resources
8. “Voluntary” charges to parents for extracurricular activities and services
9. Reduction of subsidised student activities including trips, visits, music and sporting fixtures
10. Seeking contributions from businesses of second hand computers, books, furniture and other basic equipment.
11. Voluntary staff sacrifice of pay increases and business expenses
12. Cutting budget lines including staff training, site maintenance, reprographics
13. Reducing choice of subjects for students

The decisions schools make on spending are no longer driven by what is best for the students but are now a matter of damage limitation. This is a state of affairs that cannot be allowed to continue and I know as an excellent constituency MP you would not wish out young people to be disadvantaged in any way.

I must emphasise again that the financial outlook for my school and others is extremely bleak. It seems that no matter how clearly we state our position or how reasonable our approach is, no improvements are made to either the financial or associated staffing crises that so many of our schools are facing. In the case of the new NFF proposals/consultation the Department for Education is simply ‘giving with one hand whilst taking away with two’. With this in mind I feel obliged to pose the following questions:

1. Why has the £384 million earmarked for wholesale academisation been clawed back from overall education spending by the Treasury?
2. What has happened to the government’s commitment to protect per student funding in the lifetime of this parliament? (Please see National Audit Office Report Dec 2016)
3. Is it acceptable that even after the introduction of the National Funding Formula, Essex schools (as a whole) will still be in the bottom third of the funding levels for 150 Local Authorities in England? (This is mainly due to the 3% cap of school funding changes proposed under NFF).
4. Where should school leaders make the cuts and savings required to balance their budgets – staffing reductions, further increased class sizes, withdrawal of counselling and pastoral services, modified school hours, reduction in books, IT and equipment?
5. In light of the chronic funding shortages noted in this letter, do you support other costly Department for Education initiatives such as the introduction of grammar schools or the opening of Free Schools where there is no “basic need”?

Along with other colleagues, I believe that it is important that school leaders in Essex work with their political representatives in order to secure a much better deal for the students and families that we serve. Once we have been able to ascertain your position on each individual question (noted above) we look forward to being able to work together to achieve this fundamental aim.

Yours sincerely

Mr V Goddard
Principal, Passmores Academy

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