Northumberland schools face 'tricky year' as they await budget news

Funding for Northumberland schools will increase next year, but the impact on individual budgets has not yet been finalised.

Sunday, 10th January 2021, 1:05 pm
County chiefs have been setting the budget for schools in 2020/2021

A meeting of the county council’s cabinet heard the estimated figure for the main schools block of the 2021-22 dedicated schools grant was £202.6million.

This is £14.4million (7.7%) higher than the final 2020-21 figure, however, the report explains that the bulk of this is for the Teachers Pay and Pension Grants (TPPG), which was previously paid separately.

Councillors heard that the final figure at a meeting of the authority’s family and children’s services committee, – which was set out after the deadline for the report – is slightly higher still, at more than £203million.

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Members were told that the detail of the impact on individual school budgets should now be available by the middle of February.

It remains the intention of the Department for Education (DfE) to move to a National Funding Formula (NFF) and in the latest guidance, published in July 2020, the intention of a ‘hard’ NFF – which will directly determine individual school budgets – was reiterated.

However, it is still the case that there is no specific timescale for this, which means that local authorities have discretion over their funding formula and allocations for 2021-22.

Sue Aviston, the council’s head of school resources, told the meeting that over the past four years, the authority has ‘worked to make steady progress to bring its funding formula in line with those set nationally in order that we provide a smooth transition for our schools when the NFF is eventually implemented’.

Following discussion with the Schools Forum, it is proposed that a two-step approach is used in the coming two years to adjust the funding values for Northumberland schools to ensure a transition to NFF values, which could potentially be required by 2022-23, according to the report.

As in previous years, the Schools Forum was also supportive of an up-to-0.5% transfer from the main schools block to the high needs block, which supports children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Cllr Guy Renner-Thompson, the cabinet member for children’s services, welcomed the increase in funding and the fact that the proposals had been backed by the Schools Forum.

Cllr Scott Dickinson also welcomed the increase, but called for the final figures to come to the committee for scrutiny, adding: “It’s going to be a really tricky year for schools money-wise anyway, with all of the additional pressures they’ve had.”

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