Lucky 13? School funding fight engulfs southern counties

Heads at 3,000 schools, responsible for more than 1.2million children, have thrown their weight behind West Sussex's fight for fairer education funding.

Worth Less? campaign
Worth Less? campaign

The leaders from 13 local authorities have sent letters to their MPs challenging them to demand “meaningful changes” to the government’s new National Funding Formula – and prove they are putting children’s education first.Along with East Sussex, Essex and Cornwall, who stepped up to support the West Sussex Worth Less? campaign two weeks ago, Cambridgeshire, Brighton, Devon, Surrey, Suffolk, Norfolk, Hertfordshire, Wokingham and Thurrock have all joined the fight, with Oxfordshire looking likely to do the same.Jules White, of Tanbridge House School, in Horsham, one of the headteachers who spearheaded the campaign, described the support as "incredible" and "a pretty big deal".He added: "The most important thing I think - and I feel kind of proud - is that school leaders and headteachers are speaking with one voice on behalf of children and their families."For quite a long time we've been dealing with some very challenging things and making the best of things, and it's just not acceptable."We're championing a cause that not just we believe in, but parents and children as well. We're not a group of militants - we're just reasonable people who are telling the truth."His views were shared by Michael Ferry, head of St Wilfrid’s School, in Crawley, who said: "Well, if that’s not powerful enough to make the government sit up and take notice... The message is clear and they need to listen. We need adequate funding for every school.”The National Funding Formula had been scheduled for introduction next month but was put back a year for further consultation when Justine Greening took over as education secretary.While the new formula would see schools in West Sussex receive slightly more money than before - though still well below the national average - those gains would be swamped by increasing costs, leaving them worse off.The story was being echoed in schools all over the country.Headteachers have lobbied MPs to do more several times - though never on this scale.Their letter stated: "In spite of the increasingly damaging financial situation, no adequate response has been provided in terms of our concerns about current and future spending proposals made by the Department for Education."There is no question that a new National Funding Formula is urgently required but it must be credible and reverse the unsustainable and deeply unsatisfactory methodology that is currently used to allocate school funds."Rather than making matters better, the new National Funding Formula proposals do not offer meaningful solutions to our current and future school finances."The heads reiterated their anger at the government’s use of hundreds of millions of pounds to fund free schools and grammar schools, saying they did not always guarantee value for money. Their letter added: “At the same time, our schools simply do not have adequate funds to provide the education that every child in our care needs and deserves. "To see such ill-judged spending being prioritised in a time of austerity is unacceptable.”Martin Brown, head of Imberhorne School, in East Grinstead, warned the educational sector was "teetering on the edge of an abyss".He said: "It has been extremely upsetting to see different educational pro-jects proposed by the government attracting huge sums of money whilst day-to-day provision in our schools has diminished year-on-year to the point where many schools are unable to balance their budgets for 2017.18. “This neglect has got to stop and we hope the tide is finally turning."Mr Brown added: "Unless we arrive at a properly thought-through and fair National Funding Formula, schools in West Sussex and beyond will be facing disaster.”The message has been received loud and clear by some West Sussex MPs.With the consultation into the new formula due to end on Wednesday (March 22), six of the eight have written to education secretary Justine Greening telling her the money lined up for West Sussex would be “insufficient to meet rising costs faced by schools”.The MPs told Ms Greening they were “deeply concerned that despite the introduction of the new National Funding Formula and the overall uplift of funding for West Sussex, all of our schools in the county, which started on a relatively low-funded basis, will see effective losses in funding over the next few years.” The letter was signed by Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs), Andrew Tyrie (Chichester), Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham), Jeremy Quin (Horsham), Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) and Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West).Crawley MP Henry Smith, who serves as parliamentary private secretary to Ms Greening, and Bognor/Littlehampton MP Nick Gibb, who is schools minister, did not sign the letter.

Mr White said: "From being a tiny West Sussex thing, we're making some proper waves - and in the right way. We've got half a chance now.

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Michael Ferry, head of St Wilfrid's School, Crawley
Jules White, head of Tanbridge House School
Martin Brown, head of Imberhorne School, East Grinstead