“Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining”. So said former US President Teddy Roosevelt.
That’s why I wrote to dozens of MPs last week about the issue of schools funding, and set out what I think is the solution. The bottom line is that I think the Government needs to put additional money into schools. Let me explain why.
First, some context: for more than 20 years Gloucestershire pupils have languished towards the bottom of the national funding pile. The old Labour formula has seen children in London’s Tower Hamlets receive nearly double the sum allocated to Cheltenham’s pupils. That’s plain wrong. So, it’s absolutely right that the Government has grasped the nettle of unfair schools funding.
But the formula that officials have come up with needs surgery, as I’ve said on Radio 4 and to the Education Secretary in person. The fact is that even though Cheltenham gains modestly overall from the proposed formula, the way the pie is divided up is illogical. Of our secondaries, Bournside, Pittville and All Saints’ gain. But Pate’s and Balcarras lose.
How has this happened? Without getting overly technical, the central flaw is that officials have sought to reduce the core proportion that goes to every pupil from 76% to 72.5% of the total, whilst ramping up the amount allocated for deprivation factors such as low prior attainment.
That all sounds fine, but it ignores a central point: even Cheltenham schools which don’t hit all the deprivation targets remain underfunded overall, simply by being located in Gloucestershire. That causes particular pressure when schools face wage and pension increases. Although it’s true that the schools budget overall has been ‘protected’ (ie frozen in headline terms) wage costs are rising.
So, what needs to happen? First, the basic per-pupil funding needs to be significantly higher – closer to 80% - so that each pupil gets broadly the same. Second, the officials need to rethink what I call ‘deprivation duplication’ which allows for both a pupil premium uplift and a deprivation uplift. Third, the 3% floor on funding reduction – there no doubt to soften the blow for schools in London – should be removed. Otherwise the geographical unfairness is baked in.
Finally, the way to ‘land’ this new formula is to inject additional funding to ensure that the core per pupil amount is sufficient to ensure that every Cheltenham school, whatever its characteristics, can afford to run. Teachers and governors are doing a tremendous job, and our schools are moving in the right direction. They need the tools to complete the job.
I’m sure Teddy Roosevelt would agree.