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Sat, 28 November 2020

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'Horrifying' new funding formula risks undermining hard-fought improvements in education

'Horrifying' new funding formula risks undermining hard-fought improvements in education
3 min read

The new government funding formula will hit London school region harder than any other, warns Karen Buck MP.


Looking around my own constituency, the transformation of schools over the last two decades is one of the most remarkable public policy success stories imaginable. Whether considered in terms of results- one of our largest secondary schools achieved just 18% A-C grades including Maths and English at GCSE fifteen years ago-the quality of the built environment or the availability of nursery places, we were struggling. At one point, close to half our secondary schools were in special measures. When the London Challenge programme was launched after 2002 it reflected both a widespread perception about low standards in London schools and a worrying truth- performance at Key Stage 4 was at or around the worst in the country.

Through measures from London Challenge to Sure Start, Teach First and greatly enhanced funding, London moved from the worst to the best performing region. By 2010, Ofsted rated 30% of London schools as ‘outstanding’ compared to 17.5% nationally, and very few London secondary schools fell into the bottom Ofsted categories.

Now London’s strength depends more than ever on its education system. Just as London must be a world leader economically, so it needs to be a world-leading city for creativity and for learning. Meanwhile, the pressures on our city remain as acute as ever- deprivation, churn, English as an additional language, higher salary and building costs. Even my borough of Westminster, cited as the symbolic representation of London’s pomp and wealth, has the 7th highest rate of child poverty in England. Seven of the 10 local authorities with the highest levels of child poverty in the UK are in London.

It is, therefore, horrifying to find that the new government formula for distributing schools funding hits London hard, putting much of what has been so hard won at risk. A higher proportion of London schools- 1536- will see a reduction in funding than is the case than any other region- 70%, compared with 58% in the North West and 53% in the West Midlands.

Just on the proposed new funding distribution formula alone, councils from Camden to Waltham Forest, Barnet to Wandsworth- stand to lose out. My own council is not one of the worst affected, but still many individual schools stand to lose. Westminster Academy, for example, with one of the most deprived intakes in the country, is potentially cut by a quarter of a million pounds.

Yet worse still, the funding formula changes will coincide with the wider spending shortfall identified in last month’s National Audit Office report on the financial sustainability of schools. This £3billion squeeze reflects the fact that education is protected in real terms but not against inflation, nor the pressures arising from salary increases, National Insurance and pension contributions, the apprenticeship levy and other costs. This pushes the level of real terms spending cuts up to 16% in Southwark, Lambeth and Hackney and 15% in Haringey. Ministers assure us this can be met by efficiency savings, but the scale of cuts at the level of individual schools is in some cases equivalent to £1000 per pupil per year.

Why would we put the quality of our children’s education at risk when, facing so much uncertainty, we need skills and creativity more than ever? Why would we risk undermining London’s crucial role as an economic driver for the whole country? The government must think again, and not choose this moment to inflict damage where it will hurt most- the foundations of our future.

Karen Buck is the Labour Member of Parliament for Westminster North

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