The Leader of West Sussex County Council has warned of a ‘perfect storm’ of funding pressures and policy changes which will have a damaging effect on local schools and children’s learning.
Councillor Louise Goldsmith has written to the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening MP, to plead for urgent government support to address issues which have ‘built up over years of under-funding’.
The letter has been prompted by delays to the implementation of a new National Funding Formula for schools, something which local headteachers and the council have been calling for.
Mrs Goldsmith said: “As things stand, central government policy is placing councils like West Sussex in a truly untenable position of presiding over real cuts to school budgets, to the long-term detriment of our children and their educational outcomes.
“I have written to the Secretary of State to say we urgently need support to resolve a number of funding issues caused by a range of policy changes and made worse by this recent delay.”
The council is in the process of preparing budget estimates for 2017/18 and beyond – and another council tax increase has not been ruled out.
Before 2015/16 year, the council had not increased its council tax since 2010/11, despite having to maintain frontline services while cutting £162million from the budget.
Mrs Goldsmith added: “Despite our focus on cost efficiency and savings, the budget pressures for 2017/18 mean that in order to continue protecting essential frontline services, we are being forced to consider passing unfunded cost burdens on to our schools.
“We have absolutely no capacity to absorb the cuts to the Education Support Grant – up to £5.7million by 2018/19 – or new costs such as the Apprenticeship Levy – £1.7million.
“I know that headteachers have expressed their bitter disappointment and frustration at the delay in the implementation of the National Funding Formula, particularly as schools and academies in West Sussex are the fifth lowest funded nationally.”
National average funding per pupil in England is £4,636.
In West Sussex funding per pupil is £4,198, which is £438 per pupil below the national average.
If West Sussex schools were funded at the average level, the county’s schools would receive an additional £44.7million per annum.
Mrs Goldsmith continued: “We had anticipated the possibility of increased funding arising from the proposed national funding formula from April 2017.
“The delay in introducing the new formula is extremely disappointing because yet again school funding is cash frozen in 2017/18.
“The government has urged schools to achieve efficiencies but such action has already been taken by schools in West Sussex to cover the new cost burdens arising from increases to teacher pensions and national insurance in 2016/17.
“Our schools cannot absorb more pressure on their budgets, which are already underfunded, through further efficiency measures – they have already squeezed their budgets to the limit.
“We are listening carefully to the concerns of headteachers about possible actions that they may need to consider if there is no increase in funding.”
Headteachers have said that, in the context of budget pressures and continuing significant difficulties in recruiting and retaining teachers, options they may have to consider include:
• Providing a reduced curriculum;
• Increasing class sizes;
• Reviewing school opening hours;
• Reducing school enrichment activities such as trips, visits and work experience, and before and after school activities.
Mrs Goldsmith added: “I want to ensure that the voice of headteachers is heard and will do all I can to try to secure additional funding to ease the current pressures they are facing.
“Ultimately, the lack of funding could impact on our children and as a county council we want to do all we can to give children the best start in life.
“I have asked the Secretary of State to allocate transitional funding to support West Sussex schools to meet cost pressures until a new fairer funding formula can be introduced.”
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