Labour intends to put education funding first at West Sussex County Council budget meeting by launching a “Worth Much More” Campaign
West Sussex Labour councillors are calling on all parties to support a proposed county council campaign to build on the recent “Worth Less” campaign by local headteachers, students and governors simply titled “Worth Much More”.
The Labour Group is also proposing a budget amendment to provide an emergency county fund of £1.3 million to provide a financial lifeline for West Sussex schools struggling most with their budgets, to bid for to help mitigate the worst effects of the lack of transitional funding.
Labour has tabled of motion at Friday’s upcoming county council meeting, recognising the severe difficulties headteachers and school governing bodies are having trying to manage current finances, calling on the West Sussex county council leadership to put much more pressure on the Government to ensure that schools have the funding they need to provide an excellent education for every one of its pupils, and for councillors to individually support once more the continuing need for extra money for schools before the proposed new funding formula comes in, which will not be until the next financial year at the earliest.
- Many of the county’s schools are in financial crisis. According to information supplied to the Labour Group, in the past year of the 224 schools the County Council are responsible for, 29 had to apply to WSCC to access a fund for schools in financial difficulty. Many more schools this year are reporting that their own financial reserves have now been almost entirely exhausted, indicating next year could see a significant number heading for deficits.
- Local authority schools in West Sussex have been hit even further by the withdrawal in the forthcoming financial year by the Government of the Education Services Grant (ESG). It is proposed this charge be passed onto schools meaning another cut of £46 per pupil this year.
- The continuing financial pressures have led governors from 40 West Sussex schools to write to local MPs warning that they may take additional action to protest against the impossible situation local schools are being put in. The action would involve: withdrawing and/or suspending their voluntary services, refusing to sign off budgets for 2017/18, setting deficit budgets for maintained schools, and reserving the right to take future actions should matters not improve.
- Despite this deficit, it is on record that the Government had put aside £384 million for academisation, and another £150 million to create grammar schools, yet the Worth Less campaign’s desperate plea for £20 million transitional funding has gone unanswered.
- Across the country, the Government has not taken account of the cost implications for schools of policy changes such as National Insurance, teacher pensions, ESG and the Apprenticeship Levy. The impact of these policy changes is an 8% real terms reduction in per pupil funding by 2019/20.
- It is estimated that the total shortfall in school funding in West Sussex from new burdens and unfunded cost pressures in 2017/18 is at least £8m. This has implications for the provision of education in West Sussex. Schools are now being left with no option but to consider staffing reductions and other cost saving measures, such as moving to open only four days a week rather than five.
- The Government’s current proposals for introducing a national funding formula are not set to benefit all schools in the county: provisional financial information indicates that although there is a small net increase to mainstream school funding in West Sussex, this is insufficient to cover the increased costs affecting schools. Within the net increase, 72% of primary schools, nearly three quarters, lose funding; this is particularly true for small primary schools serving rural communities.
- The Worth Less campaign said earlier last week: "Throughout our campaign school leaders have sought to be ‘relentlessly reasonable’; now we are simply furious… We are literally scrabbling around for any form of cash like a desperate person checking down the side of their sofa for the odd pound coin or two."
- The additional money proposed by the Labour Group, if agreed by full council on Friday, would be added to an existing council fund of £292,000 set aside for schools in financial difficulty to form an emergency fund of nearly £1.3 million so that the county’s worst-off schools could bid for some financial respite, and a lifeline until hopefully a more favourable funding formula is provided in the following financial year. The emergency fund would be used to support schools who can demonstrate to council officers a clear need to access funding to avoid cutting staff and support for pupils.
Speaking before the full council meeting on Friday, Labour County Councillor Michael Jones (Southgate and Crawley Central) said: "Labour is proposing this £1 million emergency fund, and we very much hope it is approved by the county council. It is all very well for councillors to pay lip service to the injustice being done to our schools and the great work they do under difficult conditions, at some point we have got to put our money where our mouths are, and support our strength of feeling with hard cash.
“This is all part of what should be this county council’s commitment as the Local Education Authority. We believe we have a serious duty of care and a role in education, even if the Government has drastically undermined that link over the past six years. If our schools are at this direst hour of need, then we should be there for them.
“It’s only a modest amount put aside compared to the £20 million our West Sussex schools have said they need in transitional funding, but the council does not have access to the level of money the Government does. At least this would be something the council could afford, and would be of some real practical help.”
Labour county councillor Sue Mullins (Ifield East and Gossops Green), who will be seconding the “Worth Much More” motion, agreed with Cllr Jones, adding: "We want the money there for the short term which is what we hope the budget amendment will help provide. The motion we’re putting forward is to address the wider policy issues, such as the injustice of the current funding formula for schools, and the continued need to press for the transitional funding in the meantime to keep our schools operating.
“It is also for the West Sussex Cabinet and Louise Goldsmith to start speaking out more strongly against what has happened. They certainly haven’t been as outspoken as they could have been on this subject, particularly as the position our West Sussex schools are in is utterly indefensible, and the proposals for the new funding formula looks like it will actually make things far worse for many schools in the county.”