Council leaders unite to press for more school funding in West Sussex

More money for schools needs to be made available by the Government as in West Sussex headteachers are being forced to make staffing reductions, according to council leaders.

West Sussex council leaders L-R top Gill Brown Arun, Ray Dawe, Horsham, Tony Dignum, Chichester, Louise Goldsmith, West Sussex, bottom L-R Dan Humphreys, Worthing, Peter Lamb, Crawley, Neil Parkin, Adur, and Garry Wall, Mid Sussex
West Sussex council leaders L-R top Gill Brown Arun, Ray Dawe, Horsham, Tony Dignum, Chichester, Louise Goldsmith, West Sussex, bottom L-R Dan Humphreys, Worthing, Peter Lamb, Crawley, Neil Parkin, Adur, and Garry Wall, Mid Sussex

Recent changes to the national funding formula have led to increased funding for a significant number of the county’s schools.

But this has still left West Sussex with the eight lowest primary unit of funding and the sixth lowest secondary unit of funding in the country.

The Worthless? campaign has seen schools in West Sussex lobby ministers for reform of the national funding formula to solve historic inequalities as lower than average funding levels have been compounded by additional cost pressures.

Meanwhile campaign group Save our Schools West Sussex has been making the same case.

Now all seven leaders of the county’s district and borough councils, along with West Sussex County Council leader Louise Goldsmith, have signed a joint letter to Education Secretary Damian Hinds calling for action.

They set out continued concerns about the low level of school funding provided for West Sussex, a specific shortfall in funding for special educational needs pupils and ongoing pressure on school places.

The letter recognises that deprivation is an important factor to consider in school funding, but at the very least West Sussex schools should receive the same level as its neighbours.

If the county was funded the same as Hampshire and East Sussex, primary schools would receive an extra £9.5m a year and secondaries £10.5m a year, the equivalent of £90 and £99 for every pupil respectively.

The council leaders said: “This lack of funding is beginning to have significant impact on the ground, with a number of West Sussex schools having to make difficult decisions about staff reductions.

“We call on the Government to increase the total amount available for education funding in England to ensure that all schools have sufficient resources.”

The pressure on funding for pupils with special educational needs was also raised with Mr Hinds, as the letter describes the high needs funding formula as ‘obsolete and broken’.

It explains: “It takes no account of the increasing number of Education and Health Care Plans, which is the main cost driver, and we call on you to undertake a root and branch review to ensure that it is fit for purpose.”

The number of pupils needing support through an EHCP, which describes a child’s special educational need and the help they will get to meet them, has risen by 43 per cent over the last three years.

The third main point raised is population growth in West Sussex and the need for extra school places.

While eight new free schools were approved between 2016 and 2017 these new places are not currently expected to be available before 2020.

The letter says there is ‘little transparency’ around the free school decision process making it difficult for local authorities to meaningfully engage and fulfil their statutory duties.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “IFS figures show that real terms per pupil funding in 2020 will be more than 50 per cent higher than it was in 2000.

“A child taking their GCSEs this year will have seen investment of over £65,000 across their education since the age of three.

“This is double the funding their parents’ generation would have received.

“Through the national funding formula we are ensuring that the most underfunded schools attract the greatest gains, while still providing for some gains for all schools.

“We recognise that schools in West Sussex have been historically underfunded. Because of this, West Sussex is gaining three per cent per pupil in 2018-19 and will see further gains in future years.

“This is equivalent to £123 per pupil this year.”

The issue was raised by Horsham MP Jeremy Quin in the House of Commons on Tuesday (July 3).

He felt the principles behind the national funding formula were sound, but raised the issue of the high-needs block where children ‘really do need our support’ either in special schools or through mainstream education.

He argued area costs adjustment based on the cost of living rather than local wages would be more appropriate, with rising costs in places near London affecting teacher retention and recruitment.

In the same debate schools minister Nick Gibb, who is MP for Littlehampton and Bognor Regis, said: “The Government are determined to create an education system that offers opportunities to everyone, at every stage of life, and an effective funding system is a cornerstone of such an education system.

“Education funding has been a key priority for this Government, which is why we have been able to maintain core school funding in real terms since 2010, at a time when we have been tackling the historically high budget deficit we inherited from the Labour Party.

“It is only through such a balanced approach to fiscal policy that we have been able to secure a strong economy that provides opportunities for young people, with the highest level of employment and the lowest level of unemployment since the 1970s.”

Mrs Goldsmith said: “I thank Jeremy Quin for his support and raising the matter in Parliament yesterday.

“We have seen an increase in the number of children on Education and Health Care Plans in West Sussex and we are calling on Government to undertake a full review of High Needs funding to make sure it is fit for purpose. We are also calling on Government to meet the costs of increasing teachers’ pay from central funds, as they have done with the NHS.”

The letter was signed by the leaders of district and borough councils in Arun, Adur, Chichester, Crawley, Horsham, Mid Sussex and Worthing.

Neil Parkin, leader of Adur District Council, said, “I’m pleased to be a co-signatory of this letter. The Government must take another look at these figures and also realise that while it continues to insist on house building targets it must also allow us to develop the infrastructure these new communities need such as schools and GP surgeries.”

Dan Humphreys, leader of Worthing Borough Council, added: “There seems to be no sound reason that the schools in our neighbouring counties should benefit to the tune of millions of pounds a year extra. We are just asking for another look at this funding and for fairness.”

Gillian Brown, leader of Arun District Council, added: “In primary schools up and down the country, class sizes are rising while staff numbers are being cut, and West Sussex is no different.

“Therefore, in the interests of fairness, we are urging the Government to look again at the figures and bring our funding into line with neighbouring counties.”

Garry Wall, leader of Mid Sussex District Council, said: “Together with my district and borough colleagues we are asking the Government to take another look at this funding to ensure it is fairer for West Sussex.”

Peter Lamb, leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “We all know that Crawley’s schools are underfunded and despite years’ of promises from our MP, the situation is only getting worse.

“The Government can’t claim they don’t have the money for Crawley’s schools when they had no problem finding £50m to expand grammar schools elsewhere, they simply have the wrong priorities. It’s time Crawley’s children got the investment they need to deliver the future we all want for our town and country.”

Ray Dawe, leader of Horsham District Council, said: “Schools in Horsham district are highly rated but there is increasing exasperation that they face big challenges with growing class sizes and pupil funding in West Sussex that is lower than for our neighbouring counties.

“Our hope is that with this joint letter from the council leaders to the government the matter will be brought sharply into focus and enable us to get a fairer settlement.”

Tony Dignum, leader of Chichester District Council, added: “I fully support my fellow leaders’ calls for education spending in the county to be reviewed to ensure a fair allocation compared with other counties.

“We want to ensure that our schools are funded fairly so that our children are not losing out. In addition, as a district we have a number of key housing developments coming forward, and so will require additional properly funded school places to meet the increasing demand.”

The letter has been sent to the Chancellor, Philip Hammond and all West Sussex MPs.