Under pressure Northamptonshire school leaders call MPs meeting about money problems

Northamptonshire school leaders say they are ‘are feeling the pressure’ and want a meeting with the county’s MPs to tell them ‘there is not enough money in the system’.

Wednesday, 3rd July 2019, 10:35 am
Northamptonshire school leaders say money shortages are impacting on the quality of education they can offer.

Northamptonshire school leaders say they are ‘are feeling the pressure’ and want a meeting with the county’s MPs to tell them ‘there is not enough money in the system’.

Chair of the Northamptonshire School’s Forum, Joanne Sanchez Thompson, has penned a letter – which was given collective backing yesterday (Jul 2 )- asking the politicians to sit down so they can make clear the huge financial strain county’s schools are under.

Staff cuts, a reduction in subject offer, and larger class sizes are all consequences of the financial struggle, as head teachers at the county’s 300 plus schools are all trying to juggle their budgets to make sure they don’t overspend. They say there are no more savings to be made.

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Five maintained schools – those under the local authority – are in deficit at the moment and have not been able to run their schools in the money allotted.

A rise in the number of children with specialist needs is having an impact on schools as more money is being taken from the general schools budget and moved into the high needs block.

This pays for educating children with special needs, excluded children and those with an educational health and care plan.

Forum chair Joanne Sanchez, who is also chief executive of the Learning for Life academy trust, said at the meeting: “There is pressure in the high needs block as the pot is not sufficient to meet the needs of our young people.

“There needs to be pressure put on levels of the political system. We are feeling the pressure. “We know what it feels like on a day to day basis.

“If a cluster of schools also wants to write their own letter that would be good. The message has to be gotten across’.

The total school’s grant for Northamptonshire is calculated by the government which applies a funding formula and hand down the money to the local education authority – although academies receive their payment directly from the government. The finances are overseen by the school’s forum, which is made up of heads, education specialists and governors.

Local education authority Northamptonshire County Council has been allocated £589m this financial year to pay for early years education right through to sixth form.

About £70m of this is allocated to the high needs block. In December the forum agreed to top slice £2.1m from the general schools’ pot to make up a shortfall in the high needs budget.

Due to the inequality of the funding formula, Northamptonshire receives £242 less per pupil than the local authority average and £1,428 less than Westminster local authority. The figure for secondary schools is £244 less than the national average.

The forum is part of the F40 campaign group which represents the 40 lowest funded local authorities.

The strongly worded letter by Ms Sanchez-Thompson says that Northamptonshire ‘schools are struggling to make ends meet and provide the quality of education our pupils deserve.’

It says: “The major impacts of these pressures include larger class sizes, narrowing of the curriculum and fewer additional support services for pupils. Outcomes for our children are generally below the national average. This is not because we have the worst teachers and leaders but because we are constantly having to find ways to balance the books. Due to the funding pressures schools are often having to use additional needs budgets just to run the school.”

Ms Sanchez-Thompson says that the funding formula affects small and rural schools the most.

The director of children’s services at Northamptonshire county council Sally Hodges was at the meeting, which was held at Nene Whitewater Centre in Northampton yesterday, and said she was adding her voice of support to the forum’s plea.

She said: “We are all aware of the pressure on special needs provision throughout the system. It is a pressure being felt by our colleagues in health too, in particular with increasing mental health need.”

The call comes at a time when a cross-party group of 80 MPs have sent a joint letter to Chancellor Philip Hammond asking him to increase funding before ‘permanent damage’ is done to the school system.

Northampton South MP Andrew Lewer is the only one of the county’s eight conservative MPs who added his signature.