Speculation that the release of proposals for a national funding formula could be postponed until after May’s London mayoral elections has been dismissed as “irresponsible” by the government, despite the apparent frustration of a senior civil servant over ongoing delays.
Sue Baldwin, the Education Funding Agency’s academies and maintained group director, admitted today that she hadn’t even seen a final draft of proposals, and referred to the absence of firm plans several times during a speech to a Westminster Education Forum seminar in London.
The introduction of a national funding formula, which will replace the current system where the amount per-pupil given to schools can vary hugely depending on geographic location, was announced in last year’s spending review, and a consultation was expected to be launched in January.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that a national formula could result in large cuts for inner-London schools.
Matthew Wheeler, a fellow of the National Association of Schools Business Managers, and Lincolnshire councillor Ivan Ould, who chairs the f40 fairer funding campaign, are among those to have speculated publicly that proposals could be delayed for political reasons as Tory Zac Goldsmith seeks to defend City Hall from Labour challenger Sadiq Khan.
But a Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said: “This speculation is irresponsible and unfair to schools and parents, as the proposed funding formula has not yet been published. We will consult on the formula and all areas will be encouraged to take part.”
Ms Baldwin told today’s seminar she had known timing would be “tight” in terms of whether the consultation would be published in time for her appearance, but said she was “afraid” it was not and was therefore “limited” in what she could say.
The event was scheduled just days after DfE funding group director Tony Foot addressed a Westminster Briefing event in London specifically on the national funding formula, from which press were barred at the government’s request.
Ms Baldwin conceded that the government needed to deal with the “patent unfairness we’ve got at the moment, the fact that it’s really opaque and the fact that it’s really hard to understand”.
Lynn Knapp, the headteacher of Oxford’s Windmill Primary School, warned schools were facing budget pressures despite moves to protect per-pupil funding.
Ms Knapp said changes to national insurance and pensions would cost her school £88,000, and its recent expansion, from two-form to three-form entry, had to be done without much additional funding.
She warned local authorities were “diminishing before our very eyes”, leaving schools having to use more traded services, turning to the private sector for things like staff insurance, which was previously provided by councils.
The DfE spokesperson said the consultation would be launched “in due course”.