Tens of thousands of city students could be seeing less money put into their education, according to research compiled by School Cuts - a national campaign which says it is calling on parliament to take immediate action to protect children's education.
Data calculated by the campaign suggests that the majority of schools across the city are facing a shortfall in government funding - as one headteacher has said that the priority should be ‘doing the best for Portsmouth children’.
With more than two-thirds of schools (77 per cent) estimated to face cuts, the figures suggest that Portsmouth is facing a shortfall of £10.2 million in 2021 and 2022.
This shortfall, School Cuts says, measures the difference between funding and the amount needed to protect per pupil funding in real terms.
As Portsmouth has 24,566 registered on the government’s school census, this means a loss of £347 per pupil for this period.
School Cuts, which is maintained by the National Education Union, has used information such as teaching pay, inflationary pressures, and non-staff costs to calculate its figures.
Stephen Morgan, schools shadow minister and Labour MP for Portsmouth South MP, said: ‘This government has failed a generation of Portsmouth’s children.
‘Without further intervention, a decade of Tory failure in our schools and the damage caused by the pandemic will become irreversible.
‘The impact will plague children’s life chances, the education system and the wider economy for decades to come.’
However, the School Cuts data is proving controversial.
Penny Mordaunt, Conservative MP for Portsmouth North, says that the information on the School Cuts website appears to be incorrect.
She said that funding in the area increased by £3.7m in 2021-22 in comparison to the previous academic year, with a boost of £149 per pupil - an increase of 3.1 per cent.
Penny added: ‘I welcome the protection of the schools budget and that we are seen as a priority education area in the levelling up white paper.
‘I have suggested better ways of allocating it, greater flexibility in using certain funding- such as the tutoring funding, and argued for more catch up funds.
‘At this critical time when our children have missed out on so much I suggest we stop the politicking and focus on doing right by them.’
The MP also said that indicative funding figures show that Portsmouth is forecast to see an extra £9.1m for schools in the 2022-23 period.
Stats watchdog the UK Statistics Authority has also found ‘issues’ with the campaign’s approach, arguing that its methodology may give a ‘misleading impression’ of the changes some schools could face.
A spokesman said The Portsmouth Academy and Newbridge Junior School – which both belong to the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, said that the figures given for those schools do not reflect the current funding situation.
He said: ‘Both The Portsmouth Academy and Newbridge will in fact receive more funding than previously when the tutoring programme, recovery funding and additional funding related to Covid testing are included.’
However, Mr Morgan said that the School Cuts numbers reflect the ‘hollowing out’ of school funding in the area, which is ‘widening existing inequalities’.
The MP added: ‘The government must match Labour’s plans to make real investment in our schools.
‘If ministers won’t step up for our nation’s children, the next Labour government will.’
According to School Cuts data, Ark Charter Academy in Southsea is among the worst hit schools in the area, with the highest per-pupil loss and the second highest overall shortfall in 2021-22.
The campaign’s numbers suggest that the school is set for a shortfall of £821,178, which means that each pupil will have £1,102 less put towards their education.
Mayfield School in North End faces the highest overall shortfall, as the figures suggest it is losing £998,391 in funding.
Both schools were approached for comment.
Ash Vaghela, headteacher at Portsdown Primary School said that while ‘every school would love to see more money’, he understands that someone ‘more powerful than him’ will make these decisions and believes ‘we just have to focus on the children.’
The teacher added: ‘We’re in a situation now where every sector, every household has to manage on tighter budgets.
‘Everybody would like more money but the reality is that we’re getting less money and we have to think about how we can use this best to support the children and our community.
‘We want to make sure that we’re working together and pooling resources where we can and doing the best for Portsmouth children.
‘It’s about getting it right for them.’
School Cuts estimates that Portsdown Primary School is experiencing a shortfall of £301,359 - or £767 per pupil.
Mr Vaghela said: ‘The funding is a complicated situation more than just the numbers - it’s a bigger conversation.
‘Where there’s a falling birthrate, there’s fewer children coming to our schools, and schools are just having to manage on these budgets.’
School Cuts argues that the 59 primary and secondary schools across the area are both being affected by the cuts, with secondaries hit slightly harder.
Schools for pupils aged 11 and over are facing an average per pupil loss of £374, while students at infant, junior, and primary settings facing an average loss of £348 each.
Charlotte Lawrence, joint secretary for the Portsmouth branch of the NEU, said: ‘With funding levels currently at the levels of 2010, many schools in Portsmouth are running on empty.
‘This is a shocking situation but one that school staff in our city know only too well.
‘Some of the hardest hit schools in our city are those in areas with the highest levels of social deprivation.
‘Cuts to school budgets come coupled with the impact of Covid on learning, children’s confidence, and on areas of young people’s development such as speech and language and socialisation with peers.
‘Primary class sizes are at their highest this century and secondary class sizes are the highest since records began in 1978, with almost a million children nationally being taught in classes with more than 30 pupils.
‘Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are particularly affected as funding has consistently failed to keep pace with the growth in numbers of young people with Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs).
‘Despite their incredible hard work and dedication to our city’s schools, school leaders have had to make extremely difficult decisions to balance the books, choosing between teaching assistants or library books, PE equipment or computers, the list goes on.
‘It is hard to see how schools will be able to achieve government education recovery targets without addressing the fundamental question of insufficient resources.’
The NEU argues that the government should restore funding to all schools to at least the level of 2015-16, and says it needs to fund a ‘proper strategy for education recovery’.
Cllr Suzy Horton, cabinet member for children, families and education at Portsmouth City Council, explained that schools are given their annual Dedicated Schools Grant funding in line with the government's National Funding Formula.
She said: ‘It's based on their specific pupil characteristics and for 2021/22 year, each school had an increase compared to the previous year, however, this needs to be seen in the context of the real challenges that schools have faced in recent years.’
The School Cuts data also suggests that Portsmouth schools are among the worst-hit in our region for 2021-22.
The rest of Hampshire is projected to have a shortfall of £36.7m - meaning a loss of £188 per pupil in the area.
Meanwhile, neighbouring schools on the Isle of Wight are said to face overall cuts of £4.7m or £317 per pupil, and West Sussex schools are estimated to have a £11.8m shortfall, equating to £113 per pupil.
However, School Cuts data suggests that schools in Portsmouth are faring slightly better than those in Southampton, which are estimated to have an overall shortfall of £12.7m - or £354 per pupil.
According to the campaign, a total of 44 Portsmouth schools are set to lose out, while only 13 schools (Northern Parade Junior School, Stamshaw Junior School, Westover Primary School, Copnor Primary School, Gatcombe Park Primary School, Springfield School, Solent Junior School, Court Lane Junior Academy, Court Lane Infant Academy, Manor Infant and Nursery School, New Horizons Primary School, and King's Academy College Park infant and junior schools) do not have a shortfall.
There is no data available for Wimborne Primary School or UTC Portsmouth.