Struggle to fund schools fairly

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A leading councillor has branded Government changes to education funding unfair amid discussions to thrash out arrangements for the county.

Last week, Northumberland County Council’s policy board met to agree the proposed, revised funding plans for schools from April 2014.

It follows the new requirements from the Department for Education in its move towards a nationally consistent formula.

The proposals also take in the outcomes of consultation with schools and the Schools Forum.

The Government introduced a new national framework for the funding of schools in April this year.

It sparked concerns from schools across the county, with middle and small high schools among the worst affected.

Following analysis of the impacts and outcomes, the Government has called for further changes to be made from April 2014. These changes are intended to be the next step towards the introduction of a national funding formula, which will start in 2015.

In general terms, the policy board wants to try to maintain stability until the details of this national funding formula become clear, while also not making decisions that will cause some schools to ‘wither on the vine’.

Among more specific decisions, the board has decided to introduce a sparsity factor, which would allow for extra funding for smaller schools, so long as they are a certain distance from other schools.

The board is also suggesting a maximum allocation for schools, which will be tapered according to size.

Coun Robert Arckless, the council’s policy board member for children’s services, said: “The system is unfair. Northumberland has been underfunded for years. There is no new money so we are trying to make the best of an unfair system.”

He added that the county needs a new formula which ‘reflects the costs of delivering a schools service in an area with a sparse and ageing population’.

No matter what changes there are for 2014/15, the operation of the Minimum Funding Guarantee will ensure that no school loses funding by more than 1.5 per cent on a per-pupil basis compared to 2013/14. Similarly, gains will be capped by a percentage yet to be determined.