West Sussex schools missing out on millions in funding under ‘unfair’ system

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Allan Hutchings Photographyallan@allanhutchings.comwww.allanhutchings.co.uk07919 520340 SUS-150331-110513001

Schools in West Sussex are missing out on up to £15m of Government funding due to an ‘unfair’ system - according to the county council.

Headteachers in the county, including all secondary school heads in the Horsham district, signed an open letter to the County Times earlier this month warning of a looming funding crisis and a potential catastrophe unless they were given their fair share of Government grants.

As West Sussex is already the fourth-worst funded area in England due to an ‘outdated’ system, they warned that cost-cutting could only be done by reducing staffing and increasing class sizes.

The headteachers said that parents would be ‘staggered’ that their children are ‘not being treated fairly’.

Jeremy Hunt, West Sussex County Council’s cabinet member for education and skills, has already written to the then Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, expressing his serious concerns over this issue.

The letter reads: “If West Sussex was funded at the average SBUF (Schools Block Unit of Funding) for all county councils, our schools would have received an additional £15.1m. If we were funded at the SBUF for our statistical neighbours, schools would have received an additional £11.8m. This gap in provision is not fair funding.”

The letter goes on to say that the county council ‘has not been able to fund, in full, the unavoidable cost pressures in schools in 2015/16’ and that schools were now considering ‘a range of options to set balanced budgets’.

It also states that unless there is a ‘significant change to school funding’ in the near future the county council and its schools face some ‘very tough decisions’.

Mr Hunt added: “The county council overall is having to reduce its budgets by £68m by 2017/18 in light of reduced government funding so there is simply no capacity for us to meet this shortfall.

“I am now calling on the next government to urgently address this unfair distribution of funding and I very much hope that whoever is the new minister will accept my invitation to meet and discuss this issue in more detail.

“I would however like to add that, despite this low level of funding, we are by no means one of the worst performing authorities. Although our results are currently around national average, we obviously aspire to be a high-performing county and we have a clear strategic commitment to achieve this.”

The council is also facing the challenge of having to provide hundreds of additional school places in the coming years because of an unprecedented growth in pupil numbers, which is also creating pressure on budgets.

The open letter from West Sussex’s headteachers reads: “We believe an outdated grant system is to blame which has not been tackled by a succession of governments. The end result is that the children of West Sussex are not being treated fairly.

“This means that most secondary schools in West Sussex must struggle with resources which are simply not sufficient for the job they are expected to do.

“And as the schools receive significantly less money than similar institutions in other parts of the country they are finding it harder and harder to be competitive and recruit, especially in subjects such as Maths, IT and the sciences.”

It continues: “The problem becomes potentially catastrophic over the next two years as additional costs are passed to schools with no increases in budget.

“A school of 1,000 students will be expected to reduce costs by around £250,000 over the next two years.

“When our schools are funded so poorly this can only be done by reducing staffing and so increasing class sizes.”

Headteachers who have signed the open letter include Siobhan Denning of the Forest School, Millais School’s Leon Nettley, Jules White at Tanbridge House School, Steyning Grammar School’s Nick Wergan, Allison Murphy at Rydon Community College in Storrington, and Peter Woodman of The Weald School in Billingshurst.