Deprived schools in England ‘getting less money after funding overhaul’

Minister are being urged to pause their education funding reforms after it emerged they have resulted in less money for the most deprived schools and more for the better off, according to a parliamentary report.

The redistribution follows the introduction of the government’s national funding formula in 2018-19 to make the funding of England’s schools more fair and transparent.

According to the Commons public accounts committee (PAC), however, the changes – which are not yet complete – have resulted in a 1.2% drop in real terms per-pupil funding in the most deprived fifth of schools and a 2.9% increase for the least deprived, despite the prime minister’s commitment to “levelling up”.

The government is consulting on the final stage of its school funding changes and a move to a “hard” national funding formula under which it would set schools’ budgets directly instead of involving local authorities.

Before pressing ahead with its reforms, the report calls on the government to assess the likely impact of further changes to individual schools and different types of school. It also highlights that changes to pupil premium funding for the most disadvantaged have seen schools lose out on a further £90m of funding.

Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), accused the government of doing the reverse of levelling up. He said: “For all its talk, the actual practice of the Conservative government seems to be channelling money from the worse off to the better off.”

The PAC report paints a bleak picture of delays, uncertainty and inaction at the Department for Education. It accuses the DfE of “dragging its feet” over improvements to provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send). The government’s Send review was announced two years ago but there is still no publication date in sight.

It says ministers have also been unable to confirm when their promise of a £30,000 starting salary for teachers will be introduced and the PAC is concerned the DfE does not have a grip on the impact of falling rolls on school budgets.

“Schools are facing a perfect storm of challenges with promises of teacher pay rises, per-pupil funding changes and falling rolls but no clear plan from the Department for Education,” said the PAC chair, Dame Meg Hillier.

“Schools and pupils in deprived areas are being hit hardest by the funding formula at a time when the government’s commitment is to level up. Add to this the ongoing delays in the review of support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities and some of the most vulnerable children are facing an uncertain future – on top of the impact of Covid.”

She added: “Every part of government has faced challenges but the impact of the exam chaos, funding uncertainties and repeatedly delayed decisions is hitting young people hard and risks scarring their life chances.”

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The government’s apparent lack of concern and priority for our most vulnerable young people is, frankly, nothing short of scandalous.”

Nick Brook, the deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “If the government is to achieve their stated goal of ‘levelling up’, they need to look carefully at the impact their reforms are having.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “The national funding formula replaced a system which was unfair, untransparent and out of date where similar schools and local areas received very different levels of funding, with little or no justification. The funding system now ensures resources are delivered where they are needed the most.”

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