School funding has been prominent in the news recently, with Tarporley High School and Sixth Form College appearing on the front page of the country edition of the Chester Chronicle. The government is currently consulting on a National Funding Formula (NFF) for schools. For many years Cheshire West and Chester, like Cheshire before it, has been underfunded compared to other local authorities. We thought that the long-awaited NFF would go some way towards levelling the amount of funding per child so that schools across England with the same student numbers and needs would receive similar funding. Instead, the proposals would result in a £7.9M reduction to funding for schools in Cheshire West. This affects all our Cheshire West schools because although academies are funded directly from central government, the amount they receive is calculated in line with funding in their local area. This reduction comes at the same time as the National Audit Office confirmed that the inflationary pressures on schools throughout the lifetime of this parliament will be over 8%.
Schools with a high proportion of children who meet the deprivation measures used to determine school budgets do already receive additional funding via the Pupil Premium, which I believe is right. However, the proposed NFF seeks to redistribute even more funding to schools with high levels of deprivation, without first establishing an adequate level of basic funding for every child and young person. It also seeks to protect those areas that have been historically funded well above national averages so that the reduction they receive is capped at 3%, again, at the expense of ensuring a fair basic level for all.
The effect of these proposals is in fact to widen funding gaps at the expense of Cheshire West and Chester schools and children.
Whilst it is clear that we, like all Cheshire West schools, will face financial challenges in the lifetime of this parliament, I can assure you that there are no plans at Tarporley High School and Sixth Form College either to narrow down the curriculum or to move to a four-day week, as suggested in the Chester Chronicle. We have been aware of the inflationary pressures and rising employer costs and their future impact for some time and we are factoring these into our financial planning. As a school, we are well-subscribed, successful in accessing for additional grants and income streams, and we have a tradition of strong financial management. Our first priorities in any financial decisions are and will continue to be the quality of teaching, learning, the curriculum and the care that we provide for our students.
Together, the Cheshire West and Chester secondary headteachers, have written to our local MPs to make them aware of our concerns. The council’s cabinet member for children and families has also contacted MPs to express the same view. I will also be writing on behalf of Tarporley High School and Sixth Form College, and will be making my views known in the NFF consultation, which continues until 22 March. I believe there is a chance that we can persuade the government to improve the fairness of its proposed formula.
In case you would like to find out more about the NFF, and should you wish to raise this matter with your MP, you can see the letters that have been sent to MPs on our website, together with a press release from the f40 group, which is the group that represents the worst-funded local authorities.