Comment: Stop missing the point – our schools need money NOW, not in 2018/19

SUS-160310-113043001
SUS-160310-113043001

It started with a letter signed by every headteacher in West Sussex and ventured to 10 Downing Street and into the halls of power.

The initial message of the Worth Less? campaign was clear – the education funding system was unfair and needed changing for the sake of under-funded local authorities such as West Sussex.

And their voices were heard.

Thanks to the support of local MPs, the government pledged to introduce a new system – the National Funding Formula – which would see a much fairer distribution of the government’s education budget.

The problem, though, didn’t end there, as education secretary Justine Greening then delayed the introduction of that formula from April 2017 to September 2018 – giving no guarantees it wouldn’t be put back further once that date was reached.

We know the new funding formula bodes well for the future and that the government is proud to have come up with the system.

But, while the future has a rosy glow, the present is a black hole sucking up the ever-diminishing budgets of our schools at a faster and faster rate.

It needs to be plugged.

The promise of fairer funding is welcomed – of course it is – but why can’t the powers that be understand schools are focussed on a much closer target than the long-term future?

They are looking at today’s budget, tomorrow’s budget and every budget for the next few years.

Because, even when the National Funding Formula comes into effect, headteachers will still have to undo the damage caused by years of under-funding.

Schools are in desperate need of money NOW, students are worried about their education NOW.

The government needs to hand over the money they need NOW before a generation of West Sussex children see their education damaged.

And yes, we know West Sussex was given an extra £930,000. That not-so-generous hand-out added up to £10 per pupil, when the authority receives £438 per pupil less than the national average – or £2,784 per pupil less than Tower Hamlets.

It’s understandable headteachers were not jumping for joy.

Responding to their calls for immediate assistance by giving yet another sound bite about the 2018/19 funding formula does nothing to help, and smacks of a government that is deliberately misunderstanding the problem.

When headteachers are forced to close their schools one day a week, increase class sizes and cut back on basics because they just cannot afford to do otherwise, the blame will not lie with them.

It will lie with a government that was happily able to find £500million for a doomed academy programme, but will not hand over a fraction of that money to help West Sussex headteachers do something as simple as keeping their schools open five days a week.

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