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Cambridgeshire education director hits out at ‘irony’ of fairer funding consultation

Cambridgeshire’s director of education has hit out at the irony of the government’s consultation on fairer school funding.

Shire Hall, Cambridgeshire County Council (49733635)
Shire Hall, Cambridgeshire County Council (49733635)

Jonathan Lewis told Cambridgeshire County Council’s schools forum the “devil is in the detail” of the consultation over plans to make school funding simpler, fairer and more transparent to level up education across the country.

Mr Lewis said: “If you’re not aware, the government launched a consultation around the future of the dedicated schools grant (DSG) or, as they describe it, ‘fair funding’, which I find quite ironic.

“It’s not a straightforward paper because it describes the government’s view on moving to a hard funding formula – funding schools nationally as opposed to the arrangement we currently have where we fund locally with national direction. The paper itself runs through the different factors that will need to be considered, some of the complexities that we’ve always seen as a barrier to having a national funding formula and it doesn’t give answers in all places.

“It talks about SEND funding and who is responsible for the deficit and what would happen if you transferred funding under a national formula.”

The county council will be responding to the consultation, which was launched earlier this month, later this year but confirmed it is already mirroring the national funding formula.

Cambridgeshire has long campaigned for a fairer deal for the county, which receives around 40 per cent, or £1,800 less, than the average per pupil funding received by inner London authorities via the education funding formula.

The DSG is the core of school funding given to local authorities, and it is up to them to distribute it to maintained schools in its control. It is made up of funding for schools, high needs and early years education. Each local authority has a ‘schools forum’ with which it makes decisions on local school funding – and Mr Lewis was keen to point out that there would be a place for it once proposals were agreed by the government.

He also questioned the timescale of the government’s plans, which were first discussed in 2017 and are now not set to be implemented until 2025.

“It’s a big process that we’re going through and I’m slightly concerned the consultation is ending in September given it only launched in July,” Mr Lewis said.

He said he was particularly concerned about the high needs block and added: “I think we probably need to explain the implications of it on Cambridgeshire.”

The Association of School and College Leaders has warned that while it supports the government’s “direction of travel”, its bigger concern is that there is “not enough money being put into the system in the first place”.

A statement said: “The cake is too small, no matter how it is sliced. We recognise that the government is currently investing more money in schools but we do not think this is enough to repair the damage done by years of underfunding and we are concerned that much of the new money will be simply eaten up by rising costs.”

Cambridgeshire’s director of education Jonathan Lewis
Cambridgeshire’s director of education Jonathan Lewis

A report by the National Audit Office found that overall funding for schools in England has risen from £36.2bn in 2014-15 to £43.4bn in 2020-21.

But with the rising number of pupils means real-terms funding per pupil increased by only 0.4 per cent. The funding formula, implemented in 2018-19, has led to the average amount spent on each pupil in the most deprived fifth of schools fall in real terms by 1.2 per cent, while it has risen by 2.9 per cent in the least deprived fifth.

The government said it is providing the biggest uplift to school funding in a decade – £14bn in total over the three years to 2022-23 – as well as investing in early years education and targeting ambitious recovery funding (which it says is worth £3bn to date) to support disadvantaged pupils aged two to 19.

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: “Parents and families deserve to know that the extra money we are putting into the education system is benefitting their children, wherever they live.

“We are delivering the biggest increase in school funding in a decade, with total additional funding of over £14bn over three years, but it is important the money is distributed fairly.

“We’ve already taken significant steps by removing the postcode lottery of the previous funding system, but now it is time to go further and make the system simpler and more transparent – and ensure every school is treated fairly, wherever it is in the country.”

Meanwhile, Anthony Browne, the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, welcomed news that schools in the county will receive an average 3.4 per cent boost in per-pupil funding for 2022-23.

Primaries will get an average 3.9 per cent rise, while secondaries and village colleges will get an average 2.6 per cent increase.

Mr Browne said: “I have been working with my parliamentary colleagues in Cambridgeshire to lobby the Secretary of State for Education for additional funding for local schools, and am delighted our efforts have resulted in such substantial changes. In the last 18 months, we have seen three major interventions from our government to support education recovery from the pandemic collectively worth over £3billion in total on top of these funding allocations.

“However, it is clear that schools in South Cambridgeshire will still receive lower funding than other areas in the country. I will continue to campaign so we can fund every child in South Cambridgeshire to learn in an environment that enables them to reach their full potential.”

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