A perfect storm?

03 July 2015

leader fundingA 5 per cent hike in costs in the next 18 months will put all schools under more pressure, but an unequal funding system is exacerbating the problems for some. Members need to take action now, reports Julie Nightingale.

Over the next 18 months, schools and colleges face a perfect storm of financial changes that some may find difficult to survive.

As members well know, after years without a rise in basic government, schools and colleges now have to find the money to fund new salary and benefits rises for staff. Some have already been forced to cut the curriculum, lose staff and put sorely needed IT projects on hold.

In September, the employer contribution to teacher pensions is going up by 2.38 per cent. This will be followed in April 2016 by a 3.4 per cent rise in the main band of National Insurance (NI) payments and a further 1 per cent pay rise for teachers and support staff that all schools committed to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) have to find.

 “We calculate that the full-year cost of these increases for all schools is at least an extra 5 per cent on their budget and there’s no extra money coming in unless you have more pupils,” says Malcolm Trobe, ASCL Deputy General Secretary.

Sixth-forms and further education (FE) colleges are, if anything, worse off, as their basic funding of £4,000 per student per year is “simply too low” to begin with, he says.

An unfair formula
A core problem with the current system is its lack of rationale. There is a huge variation in how funding is allocated nationally with the gap-per-pupil funding between the best and least well-off authorities standing at about £2,000, according to ASCL calculations.

Wokingham in Berkshire is the most poorly funded borough in the country where schools will receive just £4,158 per pupil in 2015-16, compared with an average of £6,297 in the ten best-funded areas, according to ASCL research.

ASCL’s campaign for a fair funding formula calls for all schools to be funded at a level that would enable them to provide a top-quality education for all young people.

“We have said that the baseline is that schools should be funded at a sufficient level to enable them to deliver an appropriate curriculum effectively to be judged by Ofsted to be ‘outstanding’,” says Malcolm.

“We’ve looked at what happens in ‘outstanding’ schools and there are a number of parameters that are fairly common. The pupil/teacher ratio, for example, tends to be around 16.5 or 17 to 1 for under-16s and no higher, so you’d want funding sufficient to enable that level of contact.”

Can schools do more?
The funding problems will hit all schools, Malcolm acknowledges. Even those that are funded at the higher end will need to ensure that they are managing the money as effectively as possible.

In some cases, expensive teachers are still being paid to do non-teaching activity, such as data management, careers, exams coordination or pastoral roles, which other schools have handed to support staff very effectively. Others are taking a year-by-year view rather than planning ahead while some are unwilling to make hard decisions about making cuts and redundancies.

What happens next?
If the government declines to yield to ASCL’s calls for sufficient baseline funding, the future is uncertain. Class sizes will grow and subjects will be dropped from the curriculum but even more desperate measures may be necessary, Malcolm adds.

“There is an inherent risk that if nothing is done to improve funding to some of the lower funded schools, some of them will not be able to put a teacher in front of a class of 30 in Years 7, 8 or 9,” Malcolm says. “The bottom line is you may see part-time schooling because you can’t afford to have kids in the school five days a week.”

It would be an unprecedented move but it’s a realistic prospect if leaders cannot find a way to cope with the funding shortfalls now looming, he says.

“Some schools are going to be very, very close to the wire in 2017.”

ASCL’s view
ASCL has been very active over the past few months in putting forward the case for a fairer national funding formula that includes sufficient baseline funding, and for an increase in funding for 16-19 year-olds. This includes meetings with DfE and Education Funding Agency (EFA) officials and letters to Secretary of State Nicky Morgan and Chancellor George Osborne, jointly signed by a number of education organisations, outlining the scale of the problem.

ASCL’s policy paper on education funding sets out proposals for improving the methodology by which schools and colleges are funded, which we have been urging the government to consider in advance of the chancellor’s budget statement in July.

We would encourage all members and their governors to raise the issue of education funding and the implications for the local area with their newly elected MP, either by writing to them or by arranging a meeting to discuss this. If you are writing to your MP as either an individual school or college, or collectively as a group, please send a copy of your correspondence to ASCL at fundingfeedback@ascl.org.uk


Haslingden High, Rossendale
At Haslingden High School, an 11-18 school in Rossendale, Lancashire with 1,550 students on roll, Head Mark Jackson is facing an increase in costs of about £400,000 for 2016-17.

Like other schools, his sixth-form provision is faring particularly badly with the loss of £90,000 in transitional protection in the next financial year rising to £155,000 in 2017-18.

Mark’s own priorities are to protect the breadth of curriculum offer, class sizes and the number of specialist teachers on staff but any development of the 1970s site, including a desperately needed refurbishment of the kitchens and cramped canteen, is looking increasingly unlikely.

He is exploring joint procurement of some services and his “very supportive” team have come up with ideas, including getting the students on board to look at ways to economise on energy by reducing the school’s carbon footprint.

But it is, by some distance, the worst position he has been in since becoming a head 11 years ago, he says, and fears the scale of the cuts will take some schools by surprise.

“We will be looking at every payment we make and saying ‘Do we need to make that?’ but we aren’t going to find tens and tens of thousands of savings by changing our gas supplier or finding cheaper Internet provision. I am concerned that some heads in my area have not looked at it and may be in for a rude awakening next March.”

Holt School, Wokingham
The Holt School in Wokingham, an 11-18 girls’ comprehensive with 1,239 students, is one of the worst-funded schools in the country. Cuts to the education services grant and changes to the local funding formula have reduced the budget by £198,000 since the school became an academy in 2011, while student numbers have risen. The 2015-16 budget will be reduced again by £109,000 and School Business Manager Janet Perry has calculated that they could be as much as £440,000 in the red by 2017-18.

The situation is “frightening”, Janet says. Ten A level groups or courses have been axed since 2013 and, in the main, school class sizes have risen from 21-22 to 26-27 to save money but the school needs to find more economies.

“We have done the easy things,” Janet says, pointing to the ‘bare minimum’ now spent on IT and maintenance of the school’s four-year-old PCs. “We are now at the stage of cutting further costs by continuing to narrow the options for our students at KS4 and 5 and have much larger classes altogether.”

The school has built on its links with others to offer some A level courses jointly, such as psychology, theatre studies and modern languages, in order to reduce the teaching load and there is scope for more partnerships, agrees Head Suzanne Richards. But teacher sharing or even joint procurement isn’t going to rescue the situation this time, she believes, and there is no educational imperative for more formal collaboration.

One of the other casualties has been staff and leadership development; a plan to offer middle leaders a chance to act up in a senior leadership role as part of their professional development has been abandoned because the school can’t afford the salary rise.

While an alternative, less expensive, programme has been devised, the loss of individual initiatives like this could jeopardise the whole concept of a self-improving system, says Suzanne.

“Without these opportunities staff will not get the experience they need to progress. This is affecting leadership capacity in our school and other schools across the board.”

Julie Nightingale is a Freelance Education Writer.