'˜We've been betrayed by the government' say Portsmouth headteachers

THE government is betraying us by forcing schools to make so many cuts.

That is the message from headteachers across Portsmouth and the surrounding areas as the government looks to introduce a new funding formula for allocating cash to schools.

Union members have thrown their support behind headteachers saying they have no choice but to make cuts as some schools could lose tens of thousands of pounds over the next few years.

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While some are considering cutting staff, others are looking at stopping external groups holding clubs and subjects being taken off the curriculum.

The Department for Education, which announced the new formula in December last year, said overall Portsmouth would see an increase in funding of £1.2m under the proposed changes.

But headteachers have said while some schools will see extra money, others will lose out.

Sarah Bennett, headteacher of Crookhorn College on Stakes Hill Road, said: ‘We have been betrayed by the government.

‘Under this new formula we stand to lose around £57,000.

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‘We are at the point where we’re saying “no, we are not prepared to cut any more and that’s all there is to it”.’

Ms Bennett added that the school has been preparing for the cut in funding since plans were first proposed. But she said it does not lessen the effect it will have on the school.

‘We’ve been planning since we were made aware of the cuts,’ she said.

‘But we will not let this affect the quality of our provision – although it limits the scope of activities that happen outside school day, we will ensure a high standard of education remains.’

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A consultation is open on the new funding formula which was revealed by secretary of state for education MP Justine Greening.

It will see cash move from London and other urban areas that have been well-funded in the past to schools in places that have received less money.

The most schools could lose is three per cent of their funding.

But many schools in the area say they may have to cut staff.

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Steve Labedz, headteacher of the Trafalgar School, in Hilsea, said: ‘The real problem is most schools spend most of their money on staffing.

‘The only way to save large amounts of money is reducing staff.

‘We’ve not had to do this yet but if funding continues to fall then we will have to consider all eventualities.

‘The saddest part is that when we make decisions in the future, instead of thinking “is this the right thing to do for the youngsters?”, we have to think more like a businesses.

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Schools become more like a business in that way when funding is reduced and I’m just hoping the students aren’t noticing the differences.’

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) are calling for the government to rethink the formula and bring in new proposals for allocating the money.

Amanda Martin, national executive member of the NUT for Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight, said despite the city as a whole seeing an increase of £1.2m, the figures do not reflect extra money available for education.

‘These aren’t real-term figures,’ she said.

‘The government is saying in cash terms there is more money but they aren’t taking into account a rise in costs for schools.

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‘National Insurance has risen as have pensions for staff. Local authorities are no longer required to provide some specialist services so schools are having to pay for these themselves.’

Ms Martin agreed with headteachers about cuts to staff being one of the options to save money.

She added: ‘Cuts to staff are realistic because there is more money to pay out and now schools are being run like businesses.

‘Headteachers have no choice but to make cuts in the light of less funding.

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‘This could see primary school classes become bigger, up to 35 children, but fewer teaching assistants within the classrooms. That means there will be fewer support packages for children who need extra help.

‘For secondary schools, the cuts could see subjects slimmed down. If only 12 students what to do music, for example, the school will have to see if it’s cost effective to have the instruments and a teacher who knows the subject.’

The NAHT has been campaigning for a new formula for years and while it agrees with some aspect of the government plans, it says more needs to be done.

Valentine Mulholland, head of policy at the union, said: ‘We have been campaigning for a new national funding formula for many years.

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‘We welcome much of what the government is proposing and especially the focus on getting more funding to schools with higher number of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds or with additional needs.

‘The problem is not the formula, how the cake is shared out, but that there is simply not enough funding for schools.

‘School budgets have been hit hard by enormous increases in costs at a time when their budgets have been fixed for several years.

‘Seventy-two per cent of our members reported to us in a recent survey they don’t know how they will make their budgets balance by 2020 – 18 per cent already have deficit budgets.’

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Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the NAHT, added: ‘School funding is in crisis. This is not due to the funding formula; it is due to the real-term cuts schools are facing.

‘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.’

Councillor Neill Young, cabinet member for education at Portsmouth City Council, echoed thoughts of the NAHT that the new formula is an improvement on current plans.

But he added more flexibility is needed for children with more needs.

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Cllr Young said: ‘We understand the concerns which primary schools are expressing. Ideally there would be more money available for education.

‘The proposed national funding formula is an improvement on the current arrangements.

‘Overall we anticipate that Portsmouth will be £1.2m better off in cash terms, but recognise the pressures the schools are identifying.

‘We’re responding to the current funding formula consultation.

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‘While the formula is broadly helpful, we would like more flexibility to be able to target funding more towards children with the highest needs.’

This week, Ms Greening and prime minister Theresa May came under pressure to back down over the plans.

But a spokesman for Mrs May said the government was listening to views and ‘they want to get this right’.

The consultation is open until March 22.

Formula will give money directly to schools

THE new formula to allocate funding to schools will see the government decide on how much is received rather than local authorities.

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In its executive summary of the funding formula, the Department for Education called the current system ‘unfair, untransparent and out of date’.

It added: ‘Similar schools and local areas receive very different levels of funding, with little or no justification.’

In the new proposals the funding from the dedicated schools grant, the main source of government funding for schools, would go directly to the schools rather than the councils who currently decide how to divide it.

The formula looks at 13 factors including cash per pupil, which increases as they move through year groups, deprivation, low prior attainment and the geographical location. It also considers school-led funding such as sparsity and split sites.

The executive summary said: ‘The formula will recognise educational disadvantage in its widest sense.’