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A revised funding formula for schools is essential but needs additional investment to succeed, says NAHT

NAHT believes a revised funding formula for schools is essential but needs additional investment to succeed. 

Commenting on the National Funding Formula for schools, Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, says “next week the government’s consultation on a National Funding Formula will close. It has taken many years, and a lot of campaigning by NAHT and others, to get to this point. We hope the government takes on board submissions and works with schools leaders and others to make this much needed formula a success.

“The design of the formula itself strikes a good balance between the principles of fairness and stability. It is right to weight funds significantly towards disadvantaged pupils. However, we have been clear that the biggest threat to the formula is the sufficiency of funding provided overall. Without enough money being put in, the aim to distribute funds more fairly will not result in the uplift that many school leaders hope for.

“School funding is in crisis. This is not due to the funding formula; it is due to the real terms cut schools are facing. Flat budgets are eroded by rising costs for national insurance, pensions, and, from April, the apprenticeship levy. In January, our Breaking Point survey found that 72 per cent of school leaders believe their budgets will be unsustainable by 2019.

“Reforming the way schools are funded is the right thing to do. But to ensure schools have the resources they need, the amount put into the system must be sufficient. Given the rising costs schools face, this is not yet the case. To make this ambitious change a success, the government needs to invest.” 

NAHT’s submission to the consultation, which closes on Wednesday 22nd March, will set out that:

  • At a time of real terms cuts to school funding, it is even more important that the funding is allocated based on clear and transparent principles.
  • The £384 million clawed back by the Treasury, originally intended for the academy conversion programme, should be reallocated to support the introduction of the national funding formula and the formula for high needs funding.
  • The proposed gap between primary and key stage 3 funding should be reduced.
  • The reduction in the lump sum to £110,000 could make some small schools unsustainable.
  • There should be more equity of funding for deprivation and low prior attainment between primary and secondary pupils
  • Funding for pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL) should be weighted to provide the greatest support at the earliest opportunity: 50% in the first year that a pupil enters the English system, 35% in the second and 15% in the third.

James Bowen, director of middle leaders’ union NAHT Edge, says “middle leaders are faced with many of the consequences of budget cuts within their school, whether impacting on staffing, the curriculum or essential equipment. Over the last few years there has been growing anger in education, as costs continually rise but budgets do not. The government’s willingness to find money to expand grammars but not to invest in the schools we have already, adds to this feeling of injustice. The government’s priorities are wrong.

“The national funding formula has been seen by many as a way to tackle the inequities in the current system. But without enough money in the first place, this will not deliver what many schools hoped for. Real terms cuts mean the government has to invest to make the funding formula work. 

 “The Department for Education should be commended for getting this far with such a complex reform. The department must listen to the profession to ensure this delivers, and the Treasury needs to provide the resources needed to make this a success..”

The government’s consultation also includes separate provisions for high needs funding. NAHT is stating that:

  • The government must recognise that the funding floor is limiting for local authorities in areas of the highest deprivation. 
  • An additional minimum of £124 million must be allocated to high needs funding to allow all local authorities to secure the gains they should have within the new national formula.
  • The inclusion of the deprivation Free School Meals eligibility factor in both the high needs and national funding formula adds to the argument for automatic registration of pupils eligible for free school meals. 
  • The DfE have listened to the concerns NAHT expressed in response to the first stage consultation regarding the funding for specialist places in mainstream schools, and continuing to provide around £10,000 for all places is critical to the long term viability of such units.
  • As set out in NAHT’s response to the first stage of the consultation, it is disappointing that the proposals do not address top up funding. There is a need to provide greater guidance and/or controls to ensure that funding is fairly distributed within local authorities so that children with similar needs are treated in a equitably across the country.

On 14 December, the DfE launched two consultations inviting responses by 22 March. NAHT's national executive has developed our response to the principles set out, and members can see our full draft response to the national funding formula and our response to the proposals for a high needs funding formula.

First published 05 January 2018