Efforts to maintain levels of funding to Northumberland's schools

Northumberland County Council
Northumberland County Council

Northumberland County Council is to seek to protect funding for schools next year, despite early figures showing there will be almost £1million less in the pot.

While it remains the intention of the Government to move to a National Funding Formula (NFF), its full implementation has been delayed until 2021-22 at the earliest, meaning local authorities maintain some control for the next two academic years.

Therefore at its meeting on Tuesday, January 15, the council’s decision-making cabinet is being recommended ‘to minimise volatility in school funding’ by seeking to retain funding formula values at last year’s levels where possible.

A report states: ‘It is acknowledged that this does create pay and price inflation pressures within the budgets, despite the introduction of the teachers’ pay grant mitigating part of this pressure.’

It is also highlighted that pupil numbers continue to play the biggest role in funding so schools which have seen their rolls drop will receive reduced funding in 2019-20.

The report, which will also be discussed at next Thursday’s (January 10) family and children’s services committee, reveals that Northumberland’s provisional 2019-20 main grant figure is £178,964,057, some £960,630 less than the final figure for the current academic year.

However, it is pointed out that three schools closed in the intervening period – the first schools at Acklington and Netherton and Belford’s middle school – which will have an impact.

It continues: ‘Given this position in Northumberland, there are challenges in setting the respective formula values for 2019-20, with the implication that it will lead to falls in the level of funding to individual schools at some point during the implementation of NFF.

‘After some discussion, and given the fact that the full implementation of NFF had been postponed until 2021-22 at the earliest, the view of the Schools Forum was that the council should seek to support some stability in setting formula values within the finance made available.’

Meanwhile, the cabinet is also being recommended to transfer up to one per cent (a maximum of around £1.8million) of funding from the main schools block to the high needs block, whose budget ‘remains under significant pressure’ and is set to remain at the same level as this year.

The report explains that the pressure relates to the increased numbers of children and young people with education, health and care plans; an increase in the numbers of permanent exclusions; and greater numbers of pupils being supported in independent special-school placements.

Despite this, it may not be necessary to transfer the full amount agreed as an additional £250million of high needs funding over two years was announced by the Education Secretary last month, with Northumberland in line to receive £613,233 in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service