Schools propping up budgets using cash for disadvantaged kids

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Headteachers have been propping up their budgets using money intended to help disadvantaged children, a survey has revealed.

More than 1,600 heads from all over the country took part in the survey put out by the West Sussex-born WorthLess? campaign for better school funding.

WorthLess? logo

WorthLess? logo

The survey covered areas such as budget, teacher recruitment, class sizes and the effects of the new National Funding Formula.

Heads have long been telling the government that more money needs to be pumped into the education budget, with many having to make cuts to staffing, equipment, the curriculum and even school hours as they try to make ends meet.

Pupil Premium funding is given to schools to help raise the attainment levels of disadvantaged children and close the gap between them and their peers.

Of the 1,590 heads who responded to a question about Pupil Premium, 1,425 said they had used part of that funding to prop up their core budget.

Jules White

Jules White

Some 650 used more than 50 per cent, 338 used more than 20 per cent, 149 used 11-20 per cent and 288 used 1-10 per cent.

Jules White, head of Tanbridge House School, Horsham, and the driving force behind the WorthLess? campaign, said: “The fact that 90 per cent of schools are using money – Pupil Premium funds – that should be serving our most disadvantaged pupils and families to ‘prop up’ their basic core budgets provides a stark reality as to how bad things are.”

The survey was aimed at primary, secondary and special school heads and gave what the campaign called an “unvarnished snapshot” of life in England’s schools and “a powerful update on the struggle that thousands of schools up and down the country are facing”.

Among the headline statistics turned up by the survey were:

To make their budgets balance, in 2018/19, 60 per cent of schools reduced staffing by one or more teachers – 194 heads said they had lost three or more teachers.

In addition, 80 per cent said they had cut at least one teaching assistant, with 513 losing three or more.

When it came to books and other equipment, 1,131 heads said they had made cuts amounting to between £1,000 and £10,000, while 246 said they had made cuts of more than £10,000.

The figures for cuts made to IT hardware and software were 1,027 for cuts of between £1,000 and £10,000 and 327 for cuts over £10,000.

In addition, 833 headteachers said they had had to make reductions to the curriculum. Some 80 pr cent of schools that contribute to the government’s Apprenticeship Levy said they didn’t get any benefit from the scheme.

In April, the National Funding Formula came into effect, bringing with it £1.3bn by 2020, taking the country’s education budget to £43.5bn.

West Sussex will receive £28m of that money.

Despite this, the survey saw 90 per cent of heads state that they had “no financial certainty for meaningful financial planning” beyond the next year.

Only 15 per cent of heads said they were better off under the new formula, while 92 per cent accused the Department for Education of having “no realistic idea of how much it costs to effectively run a school”.

One of the huge cost burdens faced by schools is the wage bill – and staff pay rises are not covered by the National Funding Formula.

The survey showed that, in the majority of schools (616 of the responders), 81-85 per cent of the budget went on wages. At 576 schools, the figure was higher than 85 per cent.

No school recorded a wage bill of lower than 50 per cent of the budget. When it came to recruitment, only seven of 1,599 heads said finding new staff had become easier since September 2016; 696 said it was harder and 655 said it was much harder.

Jules White said: “In spite of prolonged rhetoric from the government, headteachers from schools and academies are stating unequivocally that their budgets remain in crisis and that teacher recruitment and retention has never been harder.”

Funding and recruitment were among the issues touched upon by Damian Hinds, secretary of state for education, when he spoke at a conference for the NAHT, the school leaders’ union, earlier this month.

Mr Hinds, who recently met with West Sussex MPs to discuss the county’s school funding concerns, told the conference he wanted to form a “close, collaborative relationship” with headteachers.

He made no promises about funding increases but recognised the financial pressures faced by schools.

He said: “It is true that schools get more funding than they used to but it is also true that society asks much more of schools than we did a generation ago.

“It is true that if you compare our schools to other countries… according to the latest OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) data, per pupil, our schools get more government funding than countries such as Germany.

“But there have also been real cost pressures on schools – pensions, National Insurance.

“So, yes, it is challenging for schools making the numbers add up and I do pledge to work with you to bear down on some of the cost pressures as best as we can.

“Working closely with you to make sure schools do get the best deals possible and can target precious resources at the frontline.

“I want a close, collaborative relationship with you, with this profession, whether on reforming accountability, or reducing the data burden, strengthening professional development or reducing cost pressures.”

Mr Hinds added: “We have a powerful opportunity to raise the status of this profession, for teaching to remain one of society’s most fulfilling roles…meaning that every child has the chance to fulfil their potential.

“And I pledge to work with you all to make this a reality.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said: “I take the secretary of state at his word when he says he wants to work with us. I thank him for that commitment.

“Bringing costs down is essential.

“But we still have to make sure that we get the overall budget up.

“We need to do everything we can to make sure that new money is released by the Treasury and given to schools without any further delay.

“So, we must continue to work alongside the government and arrive at a funding settlement that matches the common ambition of providing every child with a world class education.”