School leaders are increasing the pressure on government to tackle huge disparities in school funding across England.
The annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) in London last week heard strong calls for ministers to take action on funding.
ASCL president Dr Peter Kent, speaking to delegates on Friday (March 20), warned that we risked sacrificing children’s education “on the altar of deficit reduction”.
He attacked government claims that education funding has been protected, saying that increased National Insurance and pension contributions and inflation meant that schools were facing a 4.5 per cent increase in costs.
His stark warning came after SecEd last week reported a new analysis of funding figures by ASCL showing that in 2015/16 per-pupil funding will vary by more than £2,000 per-pupil between the worst and best funded schools.
While schools in the best funded areas will get an average of £6,297 per-pupil, those in the worst will get just £4,208. ASCL said that for an average-sized secondary this shortfall equates to £1.92 million – or 40 teachers.
At the conference on Friday, ASCL warned that many of its members have already made cuts because of squeezed budgets that have not matched inflation rises. More schools will have to make cuts in the next 12 months, it said.
In his address to members, Dr Kent said: “The reality is that our current system of funding is making it impossible for some schools and colleges to make ends meet.
“Even before the underwhelming offers of a future based upon flat cash, or an inflation increase that will be swallowed up by increased pupil numbers, many members were telling us that they had gone past the point where efficiency savings could be made.
“Too many institutions are having to grapple with the reality that the level of funding is not enough to sustain the quality of education that our children deserve.
“Our children only get one chance and will not understand if we tell them in five years’ time that their education has been sacrificed on the altar of deficit reduction.”
ASCL’s calculations show that rises to National Insurance and pension contributions over the next 18 months, as well as pay increases for teaching and support staff will add 4.5 per cent to budget costs. For an average school of 920 pupils, this will be an additional £199,000 in costs, it says.
Dr Kent reiterated ASCL’s calls for a national fair funding formula to tackle historical oddities in the funding system that lead to some schools receiving much less per-pupil than others.
He also warned that the continued cuts to post-16 education meant that funding levels were now below what was needed to provide a good education.
ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman echoed Dr Kent’s message during his own address at the conference. He said: “Changes (to funding) will be needed for 2016/17, otherwise many schools will fall off a financial cliff.”
Dr Kent added: “ASCL continues to argue for a national funding formula where the money given to each school is sufficient to provide a good quality of education. Wide variations in the level of funding across the country cannot be justified and have to be addressed.
“Similarly, it cannot be right that post-16 funding has already been reduced below the necessary level to provide the education that these students deserve. It is fine to talk about skills and opportunity, but as a nation we have to face up to the need to support words with resources. Talk is cheap, but a good education is not.”