There is storm brewing over Government funding for schools
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Storm clouds are gathering over government funding for schools, writes Ipswich headteacher Clare Flintoff.
School governors in West Sussex are threatening to strike, headteachers and school leaders are up in arms about real term cuts to school budgets and, in the middle of this, the government are introducing a new funding formula for schools.
Last week Andreas Schleicher, education director at the OECD, joined in the debate and questioned whether we place enough value on education in this country.
Are we really thinking about future prosperity when we cut funding to the next generation?
Although the government has committed to protecting core school budgets and is saying it is not directly taking money out of the system, the National Audit Office predicts that schools will need to make 8% budget savings by 2019-2020 due to increased costs such as pension contributions and new apprentice levy to name just two.
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The proposals to introduce a new funding system will mostly bring benefits for schools in our area compared to other parts of the country.
However, unless opposition to these proposals is separated out from the real crisis in school funding we are in danger of seeing the new funding formula disappear altogether.
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When our three schools in Ipswich first formed the multi-academy trust we did so with a very clear vision in mind. Our pupils deserved to be in the best schools in the country and we were, and still are, determined to ensure that Suffolk schools live up to this - it’s what our young people deserve.
One key strategy that we use is to go out and search for the best practice across the country.
Quite simply, we look for schools with similar catchment areas that are doing better than we are, and we find out why.
In 2014 we visited a school in Newham where results were consistently outstanding and later on a school in Islington where their ‘disadvantaged’ pupils were achieving well.
A lot of the good practice we saw on those visits was brought back to our schools. However, we have been constantly held back by what we can afford. Both of these London schools were operating on budgets that were considerably higher than ours - in one case more than double the income we had coming into St Helen’s.
Justine Greening has labelled our current funding system as “unfair, untransparent and out of date. Similar schools and local areas receive very different levels of funding, with little or no justification.
Patchy and inconsistent decisions have built up over many years, and mean resources are not getting to the schools and pupils that need them most”.
It is good news for our schools that we finally have this government recognition and it looks as if the funding inequality is going to be addressed.
Unfortunately it comes too late to make any positive impact to what we can provide in the classroom. I wonder if those London schools will be visiting us in the near future to see how we provide such a good education on such low funding!
The school leaders’ task over the next few years is to maximise the educational offer that we provide on less money. We can complain all we like but achieving more with less has to be our priority.
Inevitably we are going to need to make savings but we must do so extremely carefully and make wise decisions as to what we cut.
I am extremely lucky to be part of an academy trust that is about to grow to eight schools. With increased buying power and intelligent procurement, we have the best possible chance of making savings whilst maintaining standards.
We hope to rough out the storm and remind people that education is our future - we need to value it properly and not lose sight of the potential our young people have to secure a positive and prosperous future for us all.
• Clare Flintoff is headteacher at St Helen’s Primary School and leads the Ipswich Primary Academies Trust. The Trust educates over 1,200 children at St Helen’s, The Oaks and Whitton primary schools and is set to grow further.