Northumberland heads raise fears over schools funding

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Northumberland’s secondary and high-school headteachers are raising serious concerns about the dire financial situation they are facing.

Almost all of their schools face significant deficits this year and next, with some running into six-figure sums, according to a statement from the Northumberland Association of High School Headteachers (NAHSH).

The statement explains that the crisis stems from substantial increases in National Insurance, pension and other employment costs over recent years while funding has remained stagnant.

Schools with sixth forms have seen funding reduce for this age group by more than £1,000 per pupil in some cases. For schools with a large sixth form, this has represented a reduction of approximately £400,000 per year since 2013.

More cost increases are on the way. A recent report by the National Audit Office states that schools face having to find savings of £3billion by 2019/20, equating to an eight per cent real-terms reduction in funding, the worst since the mid-1990s.

The situation in Northumberland is compounded because funding here has historically been low compared to many other areas in the country. Currently, it is two per cent lower than the national average. Furthermore, as a result of considerable variation in funding within Northumberland itself, the lowest-funded high schools are getting 20 per cent less than the national average.

It was hoped that the much publicised national funding formula would address the unfairness. However, the proposals announced fall way short of this. In fact, the majority of Northumberland secondary and high schools face a reduction in funding under the proposals, in some cases up to £90,000. This will exacerbate an already difficult situation that is fast approaching crisis point. Headteachers are dismayed that once again students in Northumberland will be disadvantaged by a flawed and unfair approach to school funding.

Con Todd, secretary of NAHSH, said: “We are deeply concerned that the quality of educational provision for Northumberland children will suffer as a consequence.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The Government has protected the core schools budget in real terms since 2010, with school funding at its highest level on record at more than £40billion in 2016/17. We are delivering on the Government’s manifesto commitment that the amount of money following a child into school will be protected and that as the number of pupils increase, so will the amount of money in our schools.

“But the system for distributing that funding across the country is unfair, opaque and outdated. We are going to end the historical postcode lottery in school funding and under the proposed national schools funding formula, more than half of England’s schools will receive a cash boost.

“Northumberland’s funding would go up by more than £2million if the proposed new funding formula was implemented. We are consulting on the factors that will make up the formula and we know that it is important that we get this right so that every pound of the investment we make in education has the greatest impact.

“Funding every child fairly and according to their needs is at the heart of delivering the Government’s pledge to build a country that works for everyone. We recognise that schools are facing cost pressures, which is why we will continue to provide support to help them use their funding in cost-effective ways, including improving the way they buy goods and services, so‎ they get the best possible value.”