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MPs must challenge ministers on the sufficiency of school funding, says NAHT

Today the House of Commons Education Committee will hear from School Standards Minister Nick Gibb on school funding reform. Speaking ahead of the session, Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, says: “We know that school budgets are being pushed beyond breaking point. We know that the government is undertaking one of the biggest changes in school funding for a generation. And we also know that this change is put at risk if the money in the system is not sufficient.

“School leaders are being hit by rising costs at a time when budgets are static, meaning real terms cuts for schools. Many have taken tough decisions to make budgets balance, but we know that schools are running out of things they can cut without impacting on the quality of teaching offered. The Public Accounts Committee heard this last week. When more than three quarters of a school’s budget is taken up by staffing costs, the only real alternative schools are being faced with is making staff redundant. 

“NAHT has campaigned for a funding formula, but the Treasury is putting this at risk by not providing sufficient funding in the first place. Increases in the cost of employer's contributions to national insurance and pensions of over 5.5% have had a big impact on schools. The planned apprenticeship levy will also see schools hit by another additional cost, paying into something they are unlikely to benefit from. Small schools will be hit the hardest.

“The DfE approach to funding is confused and contradictory. Only last week we heard that the department is clawing back £384m originally promised for schools in England because of changes to its forced academisation policy. However, the government has not scrapped plans to take £600 million out of the education services grant (ESG), which is used by councils for school improvement and special needs pupils, and to plan for school places. The government feels justified in clawing back money allocated to pay for academisation costs, but plans to withdraw money from local authorities at a time when many schools are not leaving to become academies. 

“To make the funding formula work, the government must address the £3 billion shortfall in real terms funding identified by the National Audit Office. Without the right investment, the government is putting its own policy at risk before it has even begun.”

James Bowen, director of middle leaders’ union NAHT Edge, says: “For every cut in funding there is a consequence for children’s education. From narrowing the curriculum and the absence of school counsellors and teaching assistants, to the everyday signs of classrooms cleaned less often and extra-curricular activities being cut. Ministers need to know what funding cuts mean for children across the country.

“Middle leaders experience first-hand the cuts to particular subjects, and how what schools provide to their pupils is being continually narrowed. If ministers truly want to make funding reforms work, they must listen to the profession and make sure what is going into the new formula is enough to offer the type of education we want to see.”

NAHT is campaigning for sufficient school funding. In addition, the government must:

  • Reverse £600 million cut to the education services grant, recognising the role local authorities continue to play in school improvement.
  • Consider the impact of the planned apprenticeship levy on schools and, as a minimum, protect small maintained schools in the same way that small academies will be protected.
  • Ensure all eligible pupils are auto registered to receive free school meals, leading to all schools getting the pupil premium funding to support them.
  • Address the £124 million shortfall in high needs funding, which threatens to exacerbate the post code lottery for children with SEND.
  • Give all early years settings the same pupil premium delivered to primary schools, not the 75% less received at present.