Schools struggle with lower funding as costs increase
PUBLISHED: 17:15 22 February 2017 | UPDATED: 13:24 23 February 2017
Open letter from Caroline Derbyshire, headteacher of Saffron Walden County High School.
Along with other colleagues in your constituency I am contacting you with regard to school funding from April 2017
onwards. I am asking you to seek an increase in the overall allocation of money to all secondary schools and academies
to enable them to meet the additional 8% costs they currently face so they can maintain and continue to improve the
standard of education in Essex. In 2017 over 96% of secondary pupils attend Essex schools that are rated good or better
by Ofsted and achieve results that are consistently above the national averages. I wish to maintain or improve our current
standards and insist that the government uses taxpayers’ money to invest in our young people at a level which enables us
to do this. Sadly, the proposals made under the new National Funding Formula do not provide a meaningful remedy to
the problems outlined above. Whilst the formula itself provides greater transparency and fairness for schools across the
country other significant factors, particularly those connected to core funding levels (3% protection cap and deprivation
factors) and the introduction of huge unfunded cost burdens (stealth taxes on schools equivalent to 8% or more), have
undermined the whole process. The proposal which is to redistribute the existing pot of money by a different formula
once again perpetuates some schools being winners, whilst others will be losers.
Over the last five years schools have received a flat amount of funding for Key Stages 3 and 4. Post 16 funding for schools
has been cut. During this period schools have faced significant increases in costs which have not been funded. These
1. Increased National Insurance contributions
2. Increased pension contributions for teaching and support staff
3. Mandatory salary uplifts for teachers and support staff
4. Cost of utilities rising in line with inflation
5. Costs of staff recruitment rising
6. Cost of supply teachers rising during period of teacher shortages in key subjects
7. Cost of changing curriculum at every level in every subject (teaching resources, updating facilities, staff training and
8. Cost in mental health provision in schools to support national crisis in youth mental health and staff wellbeing
9. Introduction of the apprenticeship levy
10. Reduction in the Education Services Grant (ESG)
11. Rising inflation
Along with other school leaders initially I was supportive of the introduction of a new funding formula. However, the
National Funding Formula being proposed by the Government from 2018-19 will do little to address need rather than
postcode because of the unfunded costs schools face and the protection element within the formula to soften the loss to
those schools currently receiving AWPU at over £1500 per pupil above the Essex per pupil funding.
Four significant issues undermine the system:
1. There is less money in the system
2. Student numbers have risen meaning funding per student is going down.
3. Rising costs for schools
4. Because no more funding is being made available the formula has the impact of levelling down the money that comes
to schools rather than topping up the worst funded schools to the same level as the best. In Essex more schools will
lose funding than gain.
The fact remains, however, that no school in Essex has been offered any additional support for the financial year 2017/18.
Even when the Department for Education’s own statistical projections are used, the majority of Essex schools are likely to
find themselves in a worse financial position over the next 3 – 4 years.
All Essex secondary Headteachers feel that the National Funding Formula consultation is a distraction from the real issue
which is that schools and academies are now seriously underfunded.
Examples of the ways in which schools have managed these cuts include:
1. Teacher and support staff redundancies
2. Reducing the size of the Senior Leadership Team and therefore its capacity
3. Natural wastage (non-replacement of staff who leave) which reduces curriculum opportunities
4. Cutting student courses with smaller group sizes which are not cost effective, hence significantly reducing the
curriculum offer to students
5. Increasing teacher contact time
6. Employment of non-qualified teachers
7. Reductions in teaching resources
8. “Voluntary” charges to parents for extracurricular activities and services
9. Reduction of subsidised student activities including trips, visits, music and sporting fixtures
10. Seeking contributions from businesses of second hand computers, books, furniture and other basic equipment.
11. Voluntary staff sacrifice of pay increases and business expenses
12. Cutting budget lines including staff training, site maintenance, reprographics
13. Reducing choice of subjects for post 16 pupils
The decisions schools make on spending are no longer driven by what is best for the students but are now a matter of
damage limitation. This is a state of affairs that cannot be allowed to continue.
I must emphasise again that the financial outlook for my school and others is extremely bleak. It seems that no matter
how clearly we state our position or how reasonable our approach is, no improvements are made to either the financial
or associated staffing crises that so many of our schools are facing. In the case of the new NFF proposals/consultation the
Department for Education is simply ‘giving with one hand whilst taking away with two’. With this in mind I feel obliged to
pose the following questions:
1. Why has the £384 million earmarked for wholesale academisation been clawed back from overall education spending
by the Treasury?
2. What has happened to the government’s commitment to protect per pupil funding in the lifetime of this parliament?
(Please see National Audit Office Report Dec 2016)
3. Is it acceptable that even after the introduction of the National Funding Formula, Essex schools (as a whole) will still be
in the bottom third of the funding levels for 150 Local Authorities in England? (This is mainly due to the 3% cap of school
funding changes proposed under NFF).
4. Where should school leaders make the cuts and savings required to balance their budgets – staffing reductions, further
increased class sizes, withdrawal of counselling and pastoral services, modified school hours, reduction in books, IT and
5. In light of the chronic funding shortages noted in this letter, do you support other costly Department for Education
initiatives such as the introduction of grammar schools or the opening of Free Schools where there is no “basic need”?
Along with other colleagues, I believe that it is important that school leaders in Essex work with their political
representatives in order to secure a much better deal for the pupils and families that we serve. Once we have been able
to ascertain your position on each individual question (noted above) we look forward to being able to work together to
achieve this fundamental aim.