Not surprisingly the subject of fair funding for our school in West Sussex has arisen again in the light of recent announcements by Government and the absence of a solution which has been disadvantaging our schoolchildren over many years. I am aware that some Head teachers have sent a letter out to parents about Fair Funding and Transitional Support and some of them have passed it on to me. Its contents will of course be a huge cause of concern for parents.
I have therefore created this special area on my website where I have posted a new podcast explaining my position on the subject and will update with news as and when. Regular readers of my newsletter or Facebook page will be aware that this is an issue I have been very actively involved with for some time, along with my fellow West Sussex MPs.
After the 2015 general election we lobbied ministers strongly to bring in a new funding formula to address the historic injustice which has effectively meant that pupils in West Sussex are the worst funded of any shire county in England. I give specific figures in my podcast but essentially our pupils would be enjoying an additional £41m each and every year if we were funded at the same rate as the average for English local authorities. It was a major achievement therefore when in the 2015 Spending Review the Government agreed to consult on a new funding formula which could only result in a better deal for our pupils. The intention was to bring in a new scheme from 2017/18 which would hopefully solve the problem.
We are only too aware that after years of accumulated under funding local schools are really struggling to make ends meet and that some degree of transitional funding could be necessary to avoid possible reductions in staffing. In the event despite the strong case we made to ministers after consultation with local head teachers we were unable to achieve this in the current difficult financial climate. However the consultation took longer than anticipated and changes will not now come into force before 2018/19 which will make the situation even more dire which is why schools have been warning about more immediate consequences.
Whilst I think some of the warnings that have gone round are too alarmist and are unhelpful, clearly the situation is getting worse. It is also not helpful to claim as some have, that Government funds which could be used are being diverted to academies or the grammar school programme. Academies are funded at just the same rate as schools still run directly by West Sussex County Council whilst the Government’s recent announcement about expanding grammar schools has not even passed into legislation yet and is some years away, if at all.
However, West Sussex MPs have again been active in taking this problem up with ministers. Over summer 2016 we secured meetings with the Minister for Schools on 18th October 2016 and with the Secretary of State on 2nd November 2016 on the NFF and transitional funding. These followed earlier meetings - including local MPs uniquely arranging for West Sussex Heads to present direct to the Schools Minister on the financial challenges their schools face and the need for change.
Two of my colleagues represented local MP’s by attending a County Head teachers’ conference on 19th November 2016. I would welcome any direct, practical information from you that you wish to share on the importance of the NFF and transitional funding to your local school budget.
Final decisions will be taken in the New Year and Fair Funding will then be introduced in the 2018-2019 academic year.
The NFF should provide equitable funding for local children long into the future. However the actual impact of the NFF on West Sussex schools could vary dramatically dependent on the formula adopted. It is critical that no one loses sight of the overwhelming importance of participating in the consultation and to get that formula right to secure long-term financial benefit for our schools. This is the most important series of long-term decisions for West Sussex schools that will have been taken in decades.
As always if you have any other specific questions then please do not hesitate to get in touch and I will post any updates on my website as I have indicated.