Headteachers have dismissed additional school funding received from the government as “simply not good enough”.
Inequalities in the education funding system have seen West Sussex floundering near the bottom of the cash pile, with the lack of money leaving schools unable to hire specialist teachers or even purchase basic equipment such as books and pens.
Following concerted efforts from every primary, secondary and special school head in the county – all of whom signed their names to the Worth Less? campaign for fairer funding – the government provided an additional £930,000 interim payment to help them make ends meet, before a new system is introduced in 2017.
The money, though, fell ridiculously short of the amount needed to make a difference to the over-stretched budgets of the county’s schools.
Spread evenly between them, the money amounted to less than £10 per pupil – or the cost of a cinema ticket – and left headteachers asking why West Sussex children were judged to be worth so little.
Parents of pupils at all 300 of the county’s schools were sent a letter on Wednesday (January 13) updating them on the progress of the Worth Less? campaign and urging them to carry the torch for more money for their children’s education.
The letter, signed by each individual headteacher, said: “Bearing in mind that our children are funded 10 per cent less than the national average, this is simply not good enough and children’s education across West Sussex will suffer as a result.
“Other headteacher colleagues and I are mindful of being realistic in our approach but we believe it would be wrong to stand by and see children in West Sussex being disadvantaged any longer.”
The headteachers are campaigning for an interim payment of £200 per pupil – a total of £20million – from April until the new, and fairer, funding system is put in place in 2017.
While that may seem like a high figure, it would still leave West Sussex receiving £200 per pupil less than the national average.
The average countrywide funding per school currently stands at £4,612 per pupil – but West Sussex only receives £4,198 per pupil.
If the county was funded at the average level, it would receive an extra £41million per year – a figure which left headteachers dreaming about what their schools could have done with the money.
John Gadd, headteacher of Thomas a Becket Junior School, in Worthing, said an extra £200 per pupil would mean he could employ an additional five teachers, 12 learning assistants, or buy an extra 300 laptops.
In London, where teachers are paid more, the average figure per pupil is well in excess of £6,000 – a difference which would have meant an extra £212million per year to West Sussex.
Chris Luckin, headteacher at Steyning Primary, said West Sussex as a local authority did the best it could with the money it received – though schools could provide more of the help and teaching children needed if the funding was higher.
Speaking about the provision for students with special needs or those who required a little extra academic help, he said: “The current practice is for children to be in a mainstream school, rather than a special school, wherever possible.
“Consequently, schools have more children with educational needs, thus needing more staff who are trained to provide more interventions for individuals or small groups.
“If this school was funded at the average level for primary schools in England, the school would have £97,000 more each year, with that this school could provide a lot more specialist help.”
Mr Luckin said the £930,000 offered by the government would mean an extra £4,200 for Steyning Primary.
He added: “I am always happy to receive extra funding, but this will not go very far towards providing specialist or trained support for the increasing number of children who need it.”
Mr Luckin said it was important to provide parents with the relevant information to make them aware of the impact the lack of funding would have on their children.
The message appeared to have hit home with boys at The Forest School, in Horsham, who took to social media to share their concerns.
One said: “Why should the location of a school determine the amount of funding it gets? The system doesn’t make sense. It’s clear that it needs changing.”
Another added: “With fewer specialist teachers, young people will not get the skills they need later on in life. This will leave Horsham with fewer skills at its disposal, affecting local businesses and the overall economy.”
After reading about the education funding crisis in the County Times, another said: “When I read the article I was shocked. I felt unfairly treated by reading this and it left me wondering why it was that less money was put towards our education and fulfilling our potential than others. I do feel worth less!
“I was especially surprised at how unaware I was on the subject as I had never realised different amounts were given to different counties. I was also surprised by the statistics on how far we are below the national average per pupil simply based on geographical location.
“Despite this, it is encouraging to know that awareness around the subject is growing and I hope that this issue will be solved to the point where we are treated equally and have suitable learning conditions.”
Elsewhere in the county, students shared the same concerns.
At St Wilfrid’s School, Crawley, six of them made a video showing their discussion about the inequalities in the government’s system.
Nathan Finnegan, Sylvia Kitenge , Oliver Colbran, Patrick Kerr, Annie Bell and Daniella Coxall said they should not miss out on the opportunities and advantages given to students elsewhere simply because of where they lived.
Nathan said: “We shouldn’t feel, just because we’re from a certain area, that we’re worth any less than anyone else. It doesn’t contribute to how we act towards education or how we feel towards education.
“We all put the same amount of effort in as anyone else so surely we should be treated the same way.”
Sylvia added: “In the outside world we’re going to get compared in the exact same way so why shouldn’t we get the same opportunities?
“[Others] can then come and say ‘oh I had this’ and we’ll have to say ‘oh my school didn’t offer that because my school didn’t have the money to offer that’.
“But then we’re still judged in the same way, we’re still going for the same jobs, we’re going for the same companies but we haven’t had the same upbringing.”
Their headteacher, Michael Ferry, said: ““This rise of £200 would allow schools to meet the rising costs in a substantial way and the potentially negative impact on the education of students would be minimal and could actually allow schools to invest in teachers and equipment.
“It is essential that we are given an adequate interim adjustment as it is grossly unfair on the students of West Sussex that they are being compared nationally in their performance against students from other local authorities whose schools receive substantially more funding per student.”
John Gadd, headteacher at Thomas a Becket Junior School, in Worthing, added: ““We hope that the government will see an increased interim payment as an investment in the education of West Sussex children rather than simply as a cost.”
Call for county MPs to do more as budgets hit ‘breaking point’
With school budgets at “breaking point”, West Sussex headteachers have written to the county’s MPs requesting a meeting.
A letter to Horsham’s Jeremy Quin and his colleagues, said schools wished to “work in a collaborative and constructive manner” with MPs to ensure the county received a higher interim payment in the months before a new education funding system begins.
The funding system – known as the national funding formula – should be introduced in 2017 and would hopefully mean a much better deal for schools in West Sussex. But it does nothing to address the cash-flow problem faced by schools in the months until then.
Acknowledging the efforts already made by MPs to make the government aware of the funding issue, the letter from the Worth Less? campaign stated: “The difficulty remains, however, that such has been the financial disparities that have come about over a sustained period of time, our school budgets are at breaking point.
“Children and their families in your constituencies are being severely disadvantaged as schools can no longer afford to staff or equip themselves in a manner that is equable with schools in other local authorities/counties. Following hikes in schools’ national insurance and pension contributions, we require significant interim funding just to ‘stand still’.”
Mr Quin said: “I am meeting local secondary heads this week, as I do regularly. I totally understand their wish for a higher interim payment and have ensured this is absolutely on the agenda of the department.
“I have also asked education ministers to consider meeting our heads direct so that they hear first hand why appropriate interim payments are required. It is important.
“However in intensely lobbying for Sussex schools we mustn’t lose sight of the overriding objective of getting a new funding formula which really works for our schools and is likely to be in place for decades to come.
“In the last six months we have made huge progress towards this goal.”
Parents have also been urged to call on their MPs for support, with Peter Woodman, headteacher at The Weald School, sending out a pro forma letter to make things easier. Supporters of the Worth Less? campaign can find a copy of the letter on its Facebook page (seach for WorthLessWestSussex).
Some parents said they were “a bit confused” after receiving a statement from MPs in December which “read as if everything was sorted”.
The statement spoke of the introduction of the new formula and said MPs would “make the strongest case to improve funding for West Sussex schools as soon as possible”. Referencing the interim funding given to West Sussex, the statement continued “we need to go much further than this to put our schools on an equal footing with those in other counties.”
Commenting on Facebook, Judith Harding said: “Everything is not sorted– we need interim funding to help bridge the gap between now and when the changes come in and the changes need to be big enough to matter. Our schools are looking for extra money now – not just in 2017/18 when the bill may change.”
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