‘Providing stability and surety’ in schools funding while continuing to push the Government on Northumberland’s ‘unique challenges’ is the council’s strategy.
As previously reported, the local authority is seeking to protect funding for schools next year, despite the figures showing there will be almost £1million less in the pot.
This reduction is in large part due to the closure of three schools in the intervening period – the first schools at Acklington and Netherton and Belford’s middle school.
At Tuesday’s (January 15) cabinet meeting, councillors agreed ‘to minimise volatility in school funding’ by seeking to retain funding formula values at this year’s levels where possible, however, final sign-off will be delegated and approved following the release of the final budget allocations from the Department for Education.
While it remains the intention of the Government to move to a National Funding Formula (NFF), its full implementation has been delayed until 2021-22 at the earliest, meaning local authorities maintain some control for the next two academic years.
The council’s director of education, Dean Jackson, told the meeting: “We will try to retain the funding formula values at last year’s levels where possible and we think we can achieve that.”
However, pupil numbers continue to play the biggest role in funding so schools which have seen their rolls drop will receive reduced funding in 2019-20, a report to councillors explains.
Coun Wayne Daley, the cabinet member for children’s services, said: “It’s about proving stability and surety at our schools.
“We are not just sitting back and taking this. We have made it very clear that with the NFF, there needs a clear line of understanding of some of the unique challenges that Northumberland faces.”
At last Thursday’s (January 10) meeting of the family and children’s services committee, where the issue was also discussed, Mr Jackson said the proposal would mean there will be ‘no great winners and no great losers, it will be just about the same’.
Chairman Coun Guy Renner-Thompson said: “We would all like more money for our schools, but we have to make sure that officers are distributing the money from central government to our schools properly.”
Richard Woolhouse, a teachers’ union representative on the committee, added: “Whichever political group is in power in Northumberland, the aim is to get more money in and support education in the county.”
Coun Daley, said: “Politics aside, everyone has to be focused on getting the best for the young people of Northumberland. I want a funding formula that reflects the specific challenges in Northumberland.”
Labour’s Coun Bernard Pidcock blamed the Conservative Government’s investment in education, adding: “Schools are in crisis at the moment, because there isn’t even enough money to pay the wages.”
Meanwhile, the cabinet also agreed to transfer up to one per cent (a maximum of around £1.8million) of funding from the main schools block to the high needs block, whose budget ‘remains under significant pressure’ and is set to remain at almost exactly the same level as this year.
The report explained that the pressure relates to the increased numbers of children and young people with education, health and care plans; an increase in the numbers of permanent exclusions; and greater numbers of pupils being supported in independent special-school placements.
Despite this, it may not be necessary to transfer the full amount agreed as an additional £250million of high needs funding over two years was announced by the Education Secretary last month, with Northumberland in line to receive £613,233 in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service