Some schools are more equal than others…

Anyone who follows the pronouncements of the Department for Education will know that it finds bald numbers – the results of abstract tests – more meaningful than assessments of progress, when determining whether pupils are getting what they need out of our education system. Anyone who spends much time talking to teachers and headteachers will also be aware that, on the whole, they seem to be of the opposite opinion –  that written assessments of progress tell a fuller story about individuals than numerical scores do.

Quantitative assessment has its place. I’ve been looking at some numbers produced by the National Union of Teachers and Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which tell a very different story than that offered by Theresa May and Justine Greening. The government says it is protecting ‘core schools funding’. The trouble is, their definition of ‘core school funding’ is very narrow. It doesn’t include funding which schools receive indirectly via local authorities, and which is set to be dramatically cut.

Nor does it take account of additional costs that schools now have to find from their ‘protected’ budgets, such as increased National Insurance contributions. When taken altogether, the government’s claims about school funding shift from lacking in candor to being misleading. The NUT/ATL have calculated exactly what those rising costs and indirect cuts are per year by 2020, in real terms, for each school in England, and there’s no happy ending. They have calculated that nationally, more than 9 out of 10 secondary schools will experience a cut in funds, averaging £365 per pupil.

Here in Suffolk, the projected losses are less severe, because the calculations take account of the Fair Funding Formula, which the government is proposing to adopt. As Suffolk schools have for years received less funding per pupil than those in the country on average, that should be a good thing. And it would be a good thing were the government proposing to add resource to enable them to level up all the underfunded authorities, instead of sharing out the existing budget differently across all authorities. It doesn’t take a level 6 SATS pupil to work out that across the country, this method means many schools will lose out in order for some to benefit. Nor is it rocket science to realise that schools can’t recoup their losses simply by spending less on toilet roll or white boards.  Even with the benefit of the funding formula in Suffolk, the projected funding deficit for Suffolk’s secondary schools alone is equivalent to more than 155 teachers.

I hear heckling from the defenders of austerity: “Some schools have too much money, and anyway public services are wasteful”. Okay then: if that’s the case, how is it that some of our schools appear to be protected from the impact of these cuts and rising costs? As any reader of this blog may know by now, Suffolk has five secondary Free Schools additional to demand. These free schools are located in the leafier parts of our Tory shire; meanwhile, it is secondary schools in the most deprived parts of Suffolk (West Ipswich and Lowestoft) which are set to take the biggest hit. Here are some numbers, all derived from the data on the NUT/ATL calculator. Across Suffolk’s 45 secondary schools, by 2020:

  1. The average impact of rising costs, funding cuts and the new funding formula, for the 29 academies ranges from 0-13%, average of 4.75%
  2. The average impact of rising costs, funding cuts and the new funding formula  for the 9 Local Authority schools ranges from 0 – 8%, with an average of 2.6%.  (This figure is lower than the figure for academies because academies receive their share of the local authority grant directly, whereas for Local Authority schools the funds go to the local authority which is supposed to provide schools with services directly. That they don’t now, in these parts, is another story.)
  3. The average impact of rising costs, funding cuts and new funding formula for the 5 Free Schools ranges from 0-2% with an average of just 0.6%. Free Schools are academies. Why then do they appear to be given preferential treatment?
  4. Six of the seven schools with the highest projected cuts (each more than £300,000) are in the most deprived areas of Suffolk. That means that they already face significant challenges.

For example, Ormiston Denes Academy is the school calculated to take the biggest hit, with a projected cut of £620,230. Last year just 32% of pupils at Ormiston Denes achieved 5 x A*-C GCSEs including Maths and English. Yet a cut of this scale is equivalent to 16 teachers. This is not a recipe for improvement.

For the purposes of these numbers, I’ve accepted the assumptions of the NUT/ATL calculator. Detractors will doubtless query the formula, quibble over the assumptions, or suggest that other factors should be taken into account. Some may suggest a reason to account for the disparity in cuts between schools in the least deprived and the most deprived areas, and the apparent protection of Free Schools from cuts. But the outcome of these predicted cuts is pretty clear: these numbers cannot be made to tell a different story. Nor do they represent any kind of progress.

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