Education reporter SOPHIE SCOTT looks at the issue of school funding and how changes are affecting Oxfordshire classrooms
WHEN the Government announced it was looking at changing the way it funds schools and Oxfordshire was set to benefit, there was initial celebration from education chiefs and headteachers.
But it soon became apparent that despite the increase Oxfordshire County Council was to receive in the 2015/16 financial year it was such a small amount that it seemed insignificant in comparison to other areas.
The county was one of 62 local education authorities to be told it was to be included in a £350m boost, announced by schools minister David Laws last month.
But while some areas would see up to £20m pumped into schools from next year, Oxfordshire is to receive just £500,000, about £7 per pupil or a 0.1 per cent increase on this year’s money.
Overall, the county’s schools would receive a share of £333.6m under Mr Laws’ plans, an increase to £4,281 from £4,274 of funding per pupil.
Mr Laws told MPs it was being done to reflect pupils’ needs in areas and would make the system more “fair”.
He said the reform would see areas given funding which reflected “characteristics” of pupils and schools rather than on historic levels of spending.
But exactly how that has been worked is not clear. Even the county has yet to receive an explanation from the DfE as to the formula used on this occasion.
County council cabinet member for education, Melinda Tilley said she had been campaigning as part of lobby group f40 to change the way the Government allocates money to authorities.
She said: “We [county council] have asked to see how it has been done, and they have said they will share our formula with us, but not those for other authorities, but this has not yet come to pass.
“We are fighting for this and I think with the backing of f40 we could try and make some headway.”
Bromley will see the largest increase, of 11.3 per cent, working out at more than £19m.
Cambridgeshire, which has historically been at the bottom of funding tables, is the next to benefit but it has clearly mounted a sucessful lobbying campaign, run by Julian Huppert MP. The question is, does Oxfordshire need to do the same?
In the last 30 years schools have seen an overhaul in the way money is controlled.
Until the 1988 Education Reform Act, local authorities had complete control over what schools got what, and primarily this was spent on teaching resources.
But after the change, schools were put in charge of their own spend, with local authorities retaining only a small part of the allocated funding.
Presently, it uses such money for services like admissions, and home to school transport – a controversial issue in its own right.
And just how the ever-growing number of academies fit into all of this is yet to be fully realised.
The government looks at levels of deprivation, age of pupils, levels of attainment and children in care.
Some of the more cynical could suggest that the announcement was strategically placed ahead of next year’s General Election.
Behind the headline figure of “more money for schools”, questions are being asked whether so little actual helps those schools which are in need of impr-ovement.
And anger at the pro-posals has come from across pol-itical parties as well as headteachers, echoing views of leaders that Oxfordshire is thought of as affluent, yet the pockets of deprivation are ignored.
Liberal Democrat councillor John Howson, pictured, who takes a close interest in education, said: “We have done little better than stand still. We have done better than the other 90 authorities which have presumably got zero but what really is the difference between zero and 0.1?”
Mr Howson added that Reading was getting more than £300 per pupil extra under the scheme.
He said: “It does seem to me that there is a sharp difference on the Oxfordshire side.
“I think we should be getting more funding and certainly should be if Reading is, as we do have similar needs.”
Mrs Tilley said: “We are still one of the worst off. I am part of f40 and have been trying to put pressure on the Government to change the funding formula and it looks as if it has not succeeded.
“It really makes me angry.
“We are seen as an affluent county but they forget that we still have areas of really high deprivation.
“We need more money to help improve on the work we are doing. If we had more I would really like to do something to improve the outcomes for children in the care system and also for Special Education Needs children.
“It is very disappointing.”
Oxford East Labour MP Andrew Smith said: “I’m really surprised that Oxfordshire doesn’t fare better than this, given present levels of funding and the needs of our schools.
“I will work closely with the county council on the detail of the formula in the Government’s consultation to put the strongest possible case for Oxfordshire schools to get more.”
DfE spokeswoman Emma Heseltine said: “Our new minimum funding levels are the biggest step towards fairer school funding in a decade and Oxfordshire is receiving an extra £500,000.
“Funding is allocated on the basis of pupil characteristics such as levels of deprivation, levels of attainment and the number of pupils in care, so for the first time pupils with similar characteristics will receive similar levels of funding, regardless of where they are.”
'WE HAVE A STRUGGLE MAKING ENDS MEET'
Lynn Knapp, the headteacher at Headington’s Windmill Primary School, said at the moment the school’s budget is so tight it struggles to make ends meet.
Headteacher Lynn Knapp at Windmill Primary School
Mrs Knapp said each year was a struggle and was disappointed in the view officials still had of the county’s educational needs.
She said: “We have such a struggle as it is to make ends meet with the budget, I would like to buy in specialist teachers for certain things and we just don’t get enough.
“I am not sure why we do keep getting viewed in this way but I would like to see us viewed differently.
“It does make it hard for us to keep on top of the improvement we are always working to do.”
LESSONS LEARNED FROM FINANCIAL BOOST
Oxford Spires Academy headteacher Sue Croft is well aware of the massive impact a funding boost can have.
The East Oxford school has recently had a new £8.2m teaching block built.
Geography teacher Brad Rayner teaches in the old block
It was made possible through a grant and a donation from the Reuben Foundation, the charitable arm of the Reuben Brothers real estate firm.
She said: “Oxfordshire is seen in a particular way and it is a shame that it is not recognised as needing help.”
She said: “If you look at the difference between our new classrooms and old, you can see how much of a difference it can make to our children.
“The new building is protecting the future of education for our children.”
School funding in Oxfordshire has barely increased or altered in recent announcements.
While the amounts Oxfordshire County Council has been given has increased slightly each year, it actually amounts to a 0.45 per cent in increased grants from the Government over three years.
2013-14 – £332.102m
2014-15 – £333.098m
2015/16 – £333.6m