It is good to see that the schools budget crisis which could see the loss of hudreds of teaching and teaching assistant jobs, narrowing of the curriculum and larger class sizes is becoming a prominent election issue.
Ahead of the Education Question Time event I publish here the submission made by Caroline Lucas MP tin March o the consultation on the new school funding formula. Although the context is Brighton many of the issues also apply to Brent:
Submission from Caroline Lucas MP, Brighton Pavilion
Ahead of this submission, I have contacted the Head Teachers serving the children and young people in Brighton Pavilion constituency to ask for their views. The message back in response from Head Teachers is clear and consistent:
- School funding is in crisis
- Current budgets are unsustainable
- School budgets are being pushed beyond breaking point
One Head with ten plus years’ experience told me the impending crisis is “unprecedented”.
This is also the message in a letter, dated 13 March, signed by 44 Brighton and Hove Head Teachers and sent to all 3 Brighton and Hove MPs. The letter is included as Appendix One to this submission. Appendix Two includes a letter and statement from the Brighton City Partnership for Education, which is sent jointly with 13 other counties. The Education Partnerships sets out in stark terms the dismay felt by school leaders over the Government’s decision to continue to divert significant monies to Free School provision and Grammar School expansion when this does not always guarantee value for money. They refer to Department for Education (DfE) “decisions that seem to entirely ignore the wishes and needs of dedicated and committed school leaders”. I urge Ministers to listen to the very genuine and persuasive concerns of education professionals.
I know that, originally, many Heads had welcomed plans for a new national funding formula (NFF). However, based on the data put forward ahead of the consultation by the Department for Education, school leaders are universally saying that there is simply not enough money to go around in the first place.
I do understand that there are a number of complex interrelated issues at play, for example on school place planning, school funding reform, including how caps on gains and losses work, and the wider funding environment.
Notwithstanding all those variables, as well as fair funding, there must be adequate funding overall. On behalf of local Head Teachers, their staff, the children and young people they educate, and their families, the key point I want to communicate in this submission is that the requirement for adequate overall funding is not being met. Moreover, this situation looks set to get worse with the changes proposed under the NFF.
In the consultation, the DfE ask whether, in designing the NFF, they have struck the right balance over the principles of fairness and stability. Whilst these are good principles, there is a real concern that the correct balance has not been struck in our area. For example, the wider cost pressures in Brighton and Hove are comparable to London authorities, yet our allocation has been linked with East Sussex, resulting in a serious budget reduction for our city’s schools.
All the Heads who have been in touch report cumulative existing upward cost pressures that are not funded, and which are already leading to real terms cuts at present. There is considerable and genuine fear that the NFF funding reductions will cause the further loss of vital staff and services, which will lead to a reduction in the quality of the education and care that schools provide.
Unfunded cost pressures represent real terms cuts to school budgets
The 'fairer funding' formula will force many schools in Brighton and Hove into a position where they cannot sustain current levels of provision. Taking account of DfE data, schools in Brighton and Hove will be £11,113,345 worse off by 2019/20 than they were in 2015/16.[1 ] As I note in the section below on Local Authority concerns, Brighton and Hove City Council point out that the proposed lump sum for each school in the city is set to fall from £150,000 to £110,000.
These cuts come as part of a context in which schools are already struggling with their finances, despite taking the utmost care with budgets. They simply cannot make further efficiency savings. It is absolutely clear from the communications I have had from Head Teachers serving my constituents that ‘savings’ unequivocally means cuts. Head Teachers are in the unenviable situation of having to write to parents with warnings about ‘tough decisions’ that feel unavoidable and which Heads cannot guarantee will not impact on teaching in the future.
Head Teachers in Brighton and Hove are reporting funding pressures across all phases and in all schools. These pressures are leading to:
- reductions in support staff
- closures of nursery classes
- reductions in services such as family workers, counsellors and pastoral support staff
- use of charity PTA money to pay for basic equipment like pens, pencils and glue-sticks
- reductions in school trips and extra-curricular activities that require subsidy from school; for example, where costs such as coach travel and entrance fees to museums or theatres need to be funded (or supplemented)
- reductions in training budgets
- reductions in supply budgets
- splitting classes and using HLTA’s (higher level teaching assistants) for cover during periods of teacher absence
- reductions in curriculum budgets to the bare minimum; for example in one primary, English and Mathematics budgets amounted to £500 each, and next year will be even less
- essential maintenance only being carried out in areas and parts of buildings and grounds considered dangerous/ a health and safety concern
These are just a selection of the ways that Head Teachers are already trying to save money. It is clear that this is not the way they want to operate, nor do they want to spend precious time being diverted from their main focus of delivering the best possible educational outcome for each child in their care. They are extremely worried about the impacts of further cuts to come.
Potential teacher losses
Several Heads have told me that, if the cuts go ahead as currently planned - and once options such as cutting support staff, reducing curriculum budgets even further, cutting trips where the school helps pay for children who can’t afford them, using PTA money for basic classroom materials like, pens, pencils and glue, have been exhausted - they will be forced, against their wishes and better judgement, to start making teachers redundant.
It is the professional judgement of Head Teachers in my constituency that such job losses would have a massive impact on standards in their schools, and that children would not have the happy and enriched experience of school they currently have and for which all schools continually strive.
In addition, many Heads are telling me that their school buildings and grounds have suffered as a result of a considerable decrease in capital funding over the last few years. For many this is having a negative impact on the upkeep of the schools, including attracting and keeping pupils, and the purchasing of new equipment. One Head Teacher tells me there’s no money for basic repairs, like the removal of black mould or to fix fencing. Others warn that constantly juggling money just to keep afloat is resulting in decisions that they do not consider to be in the best interests of their pupils.
Support for children with complex needs who do not have additional funding
It is clear that many Head Teachers have taken great pride and care in successfully supporting children who have significant social and emotional needs – without recourse to additional funding. This has been done by, for example, paying for senior leaders and SENDCo to have time out of class; the employment of learning mentors, a school counsellor and teaching assistants; and the purchase of external support services.
These are the things which have avoided some children being excluded and for some children, have turned their lives around. They are also the kinds of things that Heads are saying they will no longer be able to do if the proposed version of NFF changes go ahead.
One Head Teacher in a small primary school has explained the significant increase in numbers of children with complex needs coming into her school with no extra funding, unless they have an EHC plan. Even where there is such a plan, she explains, these now have three tier levels of funding and it is much more difficult to secure the support required.
It is very clear that Head Teachers are already relying on excellent teaching and individual needs assistants to plug gaps and provide help and support where it is needed. One Head Teacher explained that “We have to have this support or the classes would be so disruptive, the other children could not learn.”
Head Teachers are also pointing to the negative impact of the reduction in LEA support. This, combined with Local Government budget cuts, means it is already extremely tough for school leaders and governing bodies to access the right levels of financial support for children with complex needs. The mechanisms they are using to meet these needs when additional funding is inaccessible will now be put at severe risk.
Schools with nurseries
Head Teachers at schools with nurseries tell me that they face additional challenges. Excellent nursery provision, previously subsidised by the school budget if necessary, is now being cut back. One school is cutting their nursery offer in half, from 5 days to 2.5. They have made this decision with extremely heavy hearts. Another school reports that it is highly likely they will be forced to close their nursery entirely - again, against their wishes.
Local Head Teachers greatly value the importance of quality early years education in a school setting. That’s why, at times and if required, they have been subsidising nursery provision from the main school budget. This is now proving impossible with the real terms cuts to school budgets.
There is a clear worry that single form entry schools will not be viable under the proposed NFF. For example, where a school has a low budget based on pupil numbers, they already have to run a very tight ship.
Smaller schools cannot afford to employ TAs in the afternoon. They cannot afford learning mentors. One small school explained that the decision to employ an experienced TA to deliver a crucial speech and language programme to children in KS1 means they’ve been unable to provide curriculum resources from their budget.
Local Authority concerns
I am aware that Brighton and Hove City Council has made a submission to the DfE consultation. Their overarching concern, which I share, is that there is not enough funding available to provide all schools with an adequate level of financial support to maintain education of good quality.
In their submission, the Council point out that the proposed lump sum for each local school will be £110,000, compared to an existing lump sum of £150,000. Each school will, therefore receive less funding, whilst small schools of between 1 and 2 forms of entry are unlikely to close the subsequent funding gap from additional funding allocated to individual pupils.
As I understand it, the Area Cost Adjustment to reflect the difference in costs of running schools in different areas of the country, links Brighton and Hove to the value assigned to East Sussex. This does not accurately reflect the unique cost pressures of schools located in the city, pressures which are closer to cost those associated with London.
I also very much share the Council’s concern that, as proposed, the arrangements do not allow for local decision making about funding distribution within Brighton and Hove. This approach both reduces the ability of the Council to support all schools in the city based on local knowledge, and reduces local democratic involvement and accountability. It is extremely worrying that the proposed approach goes against the grain of the Government’s stated aims of increasing local involvement and accountability. A model whereby funding is determined at a national level, with no account of local factors and knowledge, is a regressive step.
NI and Pension costs and Education Services Grant cut
Head Teachers are facing cumulative budget pressures, with staffing costs and inflation increasing. Head Teachers’ and Teachers’ Unions have spelt out very clearly that the increases in the cost of employer's contributions to national insurance and pensions have had a significant impact on schools. The list of cuts and reductions in services earlier in this submission, are evidence that calling on Head Teachers to absorb these costs through ‘efficiencies’ is neither fair nor viable. Our schools are not inefficiently run in the first place. There is no ‘fat to trim’ and Head Teachers are being forced to fund pension, NI and inflation related costs with increasingly harsh and unacceptable cuts.
Schools are also concerned by the proposed additional £600m cut to the Education Services Grant, the additional funding that Academies and Local Authorities receive for centrally provided services such as human resources, school improvement and education welfare services. I urge the Secretary of State to reverse that cut, and to recognise the role that Local Authorities continue to play in school improvement.
Along with the other cost pressures highlighted in this submission, Head Teachers are expressing concern at the unfairness of being expected to absorb the cost of the apprenticeship levy. The levy comes in a context in which Heads are highly unlikely to be able to afford to employ an apprentice, not least as they are being forced to look at staff reductions across their schools, due to funding cuts. Therefore, in many cases, the apprenticeship levy will be set to put an additional pressure on the school budget with no benefit to the children in the school.
NAO evidence of real terms funding shortfall
To make the funding formula work, the Government must address the real terms funding shortfall, identified by the National Audit Office. An NAO report, published on 14 December 2016, said that, overall, mainstream schools will need to find £3 billion of savings by 2019-20 (not per year). The House of Commons Library explain that this equates to a net real-terms reduction in per-pupil funding of around 8% for mainstream schools between 2014-15 and 2019-20.
The following two paragraphs from the NAO report goes to the nub of my submission: Head Teachers serving the children and young people in my constituency are simply unable to juggle the reality of the cuts outlined.
7 The Department’s overall schools budget is protected in real terms but does not provide for funding per pupil to increase in line with inflation. In the 2015 Spending Review, the government increased the schools budget by 7.7% from £39.6 billion in 2015-16 to £42.6 billion in 2019-20. This is a real-terms increase that protects the overall budget from forecast inflation. The Department estimates that the number of pupils will rise over the same period: a 3.9% (174,000) increase in primary school pupils and a 10.3% (284,000) increase in secondary school pupils. Therefore, funding per pupil will, on average, rise only from £5,447 in 2015-16 to £5,519 in 2019-20, a real-terms reduction once inflation is taken into account (paragraph).
8 The Department estimates that mainstream schools will have to find savings of £3.0 billion to counteract cumulative cost pressures. Pay rises, the introduction of the national living wage, higher employer contributions to national insurance and the teachers’ pension scheme, non-pay inflation and the apprenticeship levy will mean additional costs for schools. The Department estimates that, to counteract these pressures, schools will need to make economies or efficiency savings of £1.1 billion (equivalent to 3.1% of the total schools budget) in 2016-17, rising to £3.0 billion (8.0%) by 2019-20. This equates to an 8.0% real-terms reduction in per-pupil funding between 2014-15 and 2019-20 due to cost pressures (paragraphs 1.5 and 1.9 and Figure 4). (P. 7)
Ministers simply cannot ignore the plain fact that school leaders are already having to find money for rising costs at a time when budgets are static. This is already leading to reductions in essential teaching support, extracurricular activities, and reliance on charity funding.
One Head of significant experience said he is at a loss as to how we have got into this position, stating that the solution is “simple - start from how much it costs to educate a child and then add on funds - not take away.”
If the NFF goes ahead as proposed, there are serious fears that teachers will be made redundant. All the schools in my constituency face serious budget cuts. Every staff member is needed and valued, yet Head Teachers may be forced into restructuring that makes support staff, and possibly teaching staff, redundant in order to balance the books.
It would be a tragedy if our schools were forced to lose dedicated staff. Head Teachers want to devote their time to making schools as good as possible; to ensuring children reach their full potential and are happy and healthy. They want to support staff in their endeavours to deliver the highest quality learning and support. Head Teachers are telling me that they do not want to be forced into slashing budgets, sacking staff and running their schools on a shoe-string. They do not want to be forced into decisions that go against their better judgement of what is best for their schools.
This stark message is coming from education leaders and professionals on the front line of education.
If Ministers want to make funding reforms work, they must listen to the experts - teachers, children and young people and their families. It is vital that the DfE make sure there is enough money going into a fair formula to offer the type of education we all want to see. Every real-terms £ cut is a real reduction in the breadth and quality of support offered to children.
I urge the Secretary of State to go back to the drawing board to ensure that both school and nursery provision is properly funded and protected, and to bridge the £3bn gap by £2019-20 – equivalent to an 8% real-terms reduction between 2014-15 and 2019-20, as identified by the NAO.
At the very least, a re-design of the NFF must take account of the wider cost pressures in Brighton and Hove which are comparable to London authorities.
Caroline Lucas MP, Brighton Pavilion
21 March 2017