UK's most deprived state schools could face further cuts thanks to new government funding formula

New national funding formula outlined for schools predicted as ‘largest cuts to school spending per pupil since early 1980s’, says IFS

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The Independent Online

State schools in England are to face spending cuts of up to 7 per cent per pupil, a new in-depth report into government funding reforms has revealed, with children from the most deprived areas of the country likely to miss out.

Proposals for a new single national funding formula (NFF), to be introduced for all schools starting from September next year, have been praised by industry experts as a “long-overdue” and “welcome reform” to school spending.

Its goal is to ensure similar schools in different parts of the country receive a similar level of funding per pupil, but experts from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) have warned the NFF – the largest school spending reform in more than 25 years – is unlikely to be rolled out across all schools until at least 2024.

In a briefing note published as consultation for the NFF closes, researchers also warned the proposed reform diverts funding away from schools with the most deprived student population.

“The Government is to be applauded for making specific proposals and setting out the reasons for the choices it has made,” the report's authors said.

“School funding per pupil has been frozen in cash terms between the 2015-16 and 2019-20 academic years [however], resulting in a real-terms cut of 6.5 per cent.”

“This would be the largest cut in school spending per pupil over a four-year period since at least the early 1980s and would return school spending per pupil to about the same real-terms level as it was in 2010-11.”

The briefing follows a report published by the Education Policy Institute last week which claimed secondary schools set to experience the largest cuts will, in real terms, lose out by an average of £291,000.

The most deprived secondary schools – with more than 30 per cent of children receiving free school meals – will see falls in funding, while the highest relative gains will go to pupils in the least deprived areas, the EPI claimed.

Announcement of the spring Budget earlier this month was met with industry-wide protest, with a wave of headteachers claiming they were ready to resign as a result of cuts to their schools’ funding.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said the safety of pupils will be at risk as vital services are underfunded and underresourced.

In their briefing, researchers from the IFS highlighted that grants to local authorities are currently based on information that is nearly 15 years out of date.

As a result, funding is being diverted from schools with very high levels of deprivation to those with average levels, meaning children from the country’s poorest local authorities are expected to miss out.

There is also a shift in funding towards small primary schools and large secondary schools, it said.

A large number of the country’s most deprived schools are in inner London, which will experience some of the largest cuts of around 2.5 per cent in cash-terms per-pupil funding between 2017-18 and 2019-20. 

Budget 2017: Seven key points

While proposed protections would prevent any school from losing more than 3 per cent of funding per pupil in cash terms before 2020, only 60 per cent of schools will be on the main formula by this point, researchers said.

As a result, around 1,000 schools are to face further cuts of 7 per cent per pupil after 2019-20.

Commenting on the report, Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said the challenges facing schools were “stark”. 

“As the National Audit Office and many others have confirmed, our schools will have to make a staggering £3bn in savings a year in real-terms by 2020 due to the significant cost pressures they face,” she said.

A cross-union analysis of Department for Education figures suggests funding will be cut for every child in 98 per cent of schools in England as a result.

“Schools with the most deprived children will lose funding,” said Dr Bousted. “These cuts will lead to increased class sizes, fewer teachers and support staff, less support for vulnerable children, especially those with SEND, and in some cases schools will close.

“To make this formula a success the Department for Education must urgently secure more funding from the Treasury. Failure to do so will deny a generation of children the quality education they are entitled to and parents rightly expect.”

Chris Belfield, who co-authored the report, said: “Somewhat inevitably, this reform creates winner and losers, and it comes at a time of severe pressure on school budgets as we are currently in the tightest four year period for per-pupil spending in English schools since at least the early 1980s.

“The Government has put in place transitional protections to help smooth the transition process up to 2019-20. However, there is significant uncertainty about what will happen after 2019-20. 

"This is a big omission considering  only 60 per cent of schools will be on the main formula in 2019-20. The formula could imply around 1,000 schools would face a further 7 per cent cut to their budgets in the next Parliament.”

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