How Should We Fund England’s Schools?

The Whitehouse Consultancy partnered with leading education think tank The Education Policy Institute (EPI) in Westminster last week to deliver an event centered on the Government’s National Funding Formula entitled How Should We Fund England’s Schools?

Chairman of the Whitehouse Consultancy Chris Whitehouse opened the event, held in the Macmillan Room of Portcullis House, before Chair of the EPI and former Education Minister David Laws moderated a lively panel discussion involving Malcolm Trobe, Deputy General Secretary of the ASCL; Mark Emmerson, Chief Executive of the City of London Academies Trust; Michelle Doyle Wildman, Chief Executive of the Parent Teachers Association; and Charlotte Santry, Deputy News Editor of TES.

The event focused on the potential future of the formula, with David Laws complimenting the Government’s existing plans noting that they were not simply a “political fix” to benefit Tory MPs and their constituencies. However, concerns were raised by panellists and audience members that the shift in funding away from urban areas could cost London the substantial gains it has made in the performance of its schools over the last 15 years. Mark Emmerson said that schools were already at the limit of the efficiencies they could deliver, and that going forward “being more efficient means for us (as a Multi-Academy Trust) reducing the length of the school week and lessons, and less enrichment activities.”

Malcolm Trobe highlighted the wider need to keep the funding formula debate separate from that of wider education budgets, encouraging the sector to look at the national picture. He said “we are seeing the impact of financial pressure on schools through gradually rising class sizes, and shrinking curriculums.”

The worries of parents were raised by Michelle Doyle Wildman while Charlotte Santry drew attention to the battles within separate Government departments over schools funding, noting that “Justine Greening is fighting hard for more money for schools, but we don’t know what the Treasury’s response will be.”

Speaking in the wake of both the joint Whitehouse – EPI event and Justine Greening’s subsequent announcement yesterday of an additional 1.3 billion for schools funding over the next two years, Chris Whitehouse commented:

“The Education Secretary’s new commitment is welcome, as it will protect schools budgets in real terms over the next two years.

“However, it is clear that this is just a short-term solution, and has come at the cost of reduced spending on school infrastructure, supporting children’s health and a number of as-yet unnamed Department for Education programmes.

“It is not new funding, nor is it on the sustained level that the EPI’s research has shown is needed to provide protection for schools budgets longer-term. Justine Greening has bought the Treasury time, but we now need a comprehensive appraisal of what our schools really need.”