School bosses warn that while revised funding will benefit rural areas, previously well-off London and city schools could now suffer as tables turn.
School chiefs in rural areas have said they could double their staffing levels if they receive the same amount of money for each pupil as some of the best-resourced city schools.
Peter Woodman, head teacher at the Weald, a large comprehensive on the outskirts of the West Sussex village of Billingshurst, is hoping his school will benefit from long-awaited proposals for a new national funding formula, which were unveiled earlier this month.
He said the “bonkers” thing was that if his school received the same amount of basic funding as schools in his neighbouring town of Brighton he could employ an extra 30 teachers.
“If I was funded at the same levels as the highest-funded London boroughs, I could double my staffing,” he said. “That’s an inequity that needs to be put right.”
School funding is a complex issue with wide local variations that make it difficult to compare. Similarly, the circumstances of individual schools vary – at The Weald, which was judged outstanding by Ofsted, just 12.4% of pupils are on free school meals – less than half the national average – and its intake is 92% white British.
Schools in West Sussex currently receive £4,198 a pupil every year (slightly more of it is given to older pupils in the county’s secondary schools) compared with upwards of £6,000 in the best funded London boroughs.
“We are the lowest of the low,” said Woodman.
He warned it would be “a tragedy” if schools in well-funded areas like London, where GCSE results are now among the best in the country after significant financial and political investment, lose out as a result of government changes to national funding.
“We feel the long-term inequities may at last be put right, which is good news,” he said. “The horrid thing is when no more money is going into the system, you are going to get winners and losers. Where we hope West Sussex will be a winner, the tragedy will be if other areas lose out.”
Peter Haylock is in charge of three “good” and “outstanding” London schools where the intake – and the income – are very different. He is executive principal of the Fulham College academy trust, which includes Fulham College boys’ school, Fulham Cross girls’ school and the Fulham Enterprise Studio.
All have large numbers of pupils from different minority ethnic backgrounds and 66% of students are entitled to free schools meals, more than twice the national average of 28.5%. In common with all Hammersmith and Fulham heads, Haylock gets £6,350 for each pupil – over £2,000 more than schools in West Sussex – which includes extra funding for deprivation, but not additional pupil premium money.
Haylock began his career as a geography teacher in London in the late 1990s and has seen for himself the effect of the London Challenge, which is widely credited for having contributed to the lifting of standards in the capital’s once failing schools. It wasn’t just extra funding, he says, it was the collaboration and sharing of good practice among schools.
“As a teacher it felt like there was a really positive future,” he said. “There was a strategy moving forward to improve attainment. It was exciting. It felt like there was a plan. Now it’s getting increasingly difficult.”
Haylock, like his counterpart in West Sussex, is having to grapple with a frozen budget at a time of rising costs in terms of wages, pensions and national insurance, which will mean an 8% cut in real terms over the next five years. On top of that he is now worried about the impact of a revised funding formula.
“It depends how much money we lose,” he says. “It could mean increases in class sizes or a reduction in the types of courses we are able to run and a narrowing of the curriculum.
“If you are going to bring in a new national funding formula, it should be brought in at a time when the country has surplus, not deficit. Any changes shouldn’t be to the detriment of one school in favour of another.
“London has delivered and is delivering fantastically strong results because of the improvements schools have made because they have been funded sufficiently to make those improvements. Anything that upsets that will have a horrible knock on effect.”
And what of the schools outside London who complain they receive so much less? “I strongly suspect that their costs are less,” he said. “But if their students are not getting the right opportunities because of funding, that’s outrageous. They need to be provided with more money to do that.
“Teachers and school leaders work incredibly hard to give students the best opportunities. It seems morally wrong to jeopardise that because of finances. These students are the future. They deserve the best.”