West Sussex schools are facing budget deficits as high as £850,000 as the financial crisis continues.
Five of the county’s MPs took the issue to a debate in Westminster Hall today (November 2), where the situation was described as “unacceptable and wrong”.
Later this afternoon, Sir Nicholas Soames, Jeremy Quin, Nick Herbert, Tim Loughton and Sir Peter Bottomley will meet with Secretary of State Justine Greening to lay the case for more cash to help headteachers make ends meet.
The debate was organised by Sir Nicholas (Mid Sussex) and saw the government represented by Parliamentary Under Secretary Caroline Dinenage. All five MPs laid out to her the problems faced by headteachers as they attempted to balance a drop in grants against an increase in costs.
Horsham MP Jeremy Quin revealed The Weald school, in Billingshurst, would be carrying a deficit of at least £425,000 in the next financial year.
Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) said Steyning Grammar School’s deficit for 2016/17 stood at £600,000, with next year’s set to rise to £850,000. He added that, while the lower shortfall had been covered by the school’s reserves, Steyning headteacher Nick Wergan would not be able to do the same next year.
All MPs acknowledged the introduction of the National Funding Formula, which has been hailed as a much fairer way of financing schools, but stressed the need for transitional funding to help headteachers bridge the gap between now and September 2018, when the new system comes into play.
Sir Nicholas said: “It is that question that we shall be pressing with the Secretary of State so that we can get to a better school funding system in an orderly and sane manner, which will be based in future on pupil numbers and less on some extraordinary and archaic formula based on past political considerations that will recognise that West Sussex has been losing out for years.
“The present situation is both unacceptable and wrong and we absolutely insist that it’s put right.
“It is the collective judgement of all the West Sussex Members of Parliament, who have worked closely together and have really gone into this matter very carefully indeed, that without transitional funding we will inevitably see a damaging effect on local schools and, at these levels of funding, on our children’s learning.”
He called on the government to “genuinely consider favourably the coherent, sensible and reasonable request” for extra cash being made by West Sussex MPs and their constituents.
With West Sussex floundering near the bottom of the school funding table, despite being one of the most expensive areas in the country in which to live, Mr Quin said redressing the funding balance was “critical”.
He added: “This cost of living makes it harder to recruit and retain the excellent teaching staff which children and parents rightly expect. This is especially worrisome in an area where school infrastructure rarely seems to keep pace with populations growth, adding to the strain placed on headteachers and staff.”
Mr Quin said he was “very proud” of the results achieved by Horsham schools but stressed there was no room for complacency.
He added: “Excellent teaching, committed leadership and supportive parents all still need the solid funding underpinning them. In the immediate term, it is this foundation of solid funding which is a source of real concern for the heads across the county.”
Addressing the shortfall faced by Steyning, Mr Herbert warned the school would have to reduce staffing levels.
He added: “So unlike schools in other parts of the country that are much better funded, which have more generous staff to pupil ratios, they don’t have the room to be able to make those reductions without impacting on the delivery of education in the school and, of course, the fear is that they will impact upon standards.”
Ms Dinenage said she hoped MPs were “reassured” about the government’s long-term commitment to fairer educational funding, adding that the allocations for the next financial year would be finalised in December.
Describing the issue of fairer funding as “only half the story”, she added: “It’s also vital that schools spend the money they receive as efficiently as possible. And the most effective schools collaborate through academy trusts, federations or part of teaching school networks or clusters. They share knowledge, they share skills, experience and resources to drive the important changes that support their school’s educational vision.
“We believe that schools themselves are best placed to decide how to spend their budgets and achieve the best possible outcomes for their students.
“And I know that lots of schools in West Sussex are already doing this despite having very low funding compared to other parts of the country.”
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