A headteacher has warned schools may have to make staff redundant after the government postponed its pledge of fairer funding.
Justine Greening, secretary of state for education, announced the new system would not come into effect until 2018/19 – one year later than teachers had been promised.
West Sussex County Council receives the lowest funding level per pupil in the country and, with schools already struggling to balance their budgets, the news came as a bitter blow.
Michael Ferry, head of St Wilfrid’s School, said: “What it undoubtedly means is that we will have to yet again tighten our belts. They are already pretty tight – they have had to be, and with uncertain economic times ahead and the likelihood that costs will continue to rise over the next two years, it will undoubtedly mean that as staff leave, some schools will have to consider not replacing them, which will impact on class sizes and upon the quality of lessons which can be delivered. The very worst case scenario is that schools may have to consider redundancies in order to be able to balance their budgets.”
A council spokesman said the authority was “very disappointed” and “frustrated” by the delay, adding: “This places the local authority and its schools under very significant financial pressure.
“As the lowest funded shire authority, it means our schools are facing significant financial pressures potentially for an even longer period, which could affect the provision of good quality education in our communities.”
Explaining her reasons for delaying the new funding formula, Ms Greening told MPs further consultation was needed.
She said responses to the initial consultation with teachers had shown a belief the funding plan was “a once-in-a-generation opportunity for an historic change”, adding “we must get our approach right”.
Ms Greening – whose Putney constituency is among the highest-funded in the country – said that in 2017/18 no local authority would see a reduction from their 2016/17 funding. That point was of little comfort to headteachers all over West Sussex.
Jules White is one of the organisers of the Worth Less? campaign – supported by every headteacher in the county – which called for a fairer funding system as well as an interim payment to help schools plug the gap before the new system came into play.
Mr White said West Sussex was being “short changed” to the tune of £40m per year, compared to the national average – and £200m per year compared to many London boroughs.
He added: “Bluntly, our children are being disadvantaged in every area from teacher recruitment, to teacher pupil ratios through to the basics such as IT equipment and text books.
“The fact that our schools, primary, special and secondary, are often so well managed means that such financial disadvantage is being ‘hidden’ from view.
“But have no doubt, budgets are at breaking point and West Sussex children are being let down.”
County MPs – including Crawley’s Henry Smith, who has been appointed parliamentary private secretary to Ms Greening – asked her to give “urgent consideration” to providing a “desperately needed” interim payment.
Mr Smith said he felt it was important Ms Greening “approaches this important issue with a fresh pair of eyes”.
He added: “I’m well aware of the pressures that local schools are under to provide a quality education to our children. Having accepted an offer from the Prime Minister to be the new education secretary’s parliamentary private secretary, I look forward to working directly with her in making fairer funding happen.”
Mr White said he hoped local politicians and MPs would place pressure on the government to ensure “significant transitional funding arrangements” were put in place for the coming financial year.
The last such payment made amounted to less than £1million for the entire county - around £10 per child - and was described by heads as “a pittance”.
He added: “Schools and the children of West Sussex deserve decisive action to level the playing field and reduce the inequities of this manifestly unfair system as soon as possible.”
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