South Lincolnshire grammar schools face ‘Titanic’ battles to balance books
A Spalding headmaster has branded changes to the way schools in the town and England are funded as a “rearrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic”.
Steven Wilkinson, headmaster of Spalding Grammar School, delivered a blistering attack on plans by the Department for Education (DfE) to “end the historic postcode lottery in school funding”.
Last month, the Lincolnshire Free Press reported that county schools could get an extra £4.6 million a year under plans for a new National Schools Funding Formula announced by the DfE last month.
But Mr Wilkinson has backed concerns by the Grammar School Heads’ Association (GSHA), which represents England’s 163 grammar schools, that most of them “will be funded below sustainable levels”.
Mr Wilkinson said: “Whilst it is true that Lincolnshire is set to gain overall as an authority, all but three of the grammar schools in the county are set to lose under the new arrangements.
“Many of them would stand to lose even more if the Government did not put in place its proposed floor whereby the maximum a school could lose is three per cent.
“Both our school and Spalding High School have worked, and are continuing to work, very closely together with primary schools on a liaison programme which is entirely inclusive and designed to attract to our schools those with the ability to benefit from selective education, regardless of background or deprivation.
“Spalding Grammar School has, through a number of years of prudent financial management, been able to build up a healthy reserve of funds.
“What is disappointing to me is that, under the proposed new funding arrangements, those reserves will need to be kept and drained solely for the purpose of keeping the school running, rather than invested in the improvement of facilities for the education of our students.
“Inevitably though, unless there is a major increase in education funding across all sectors, not just grammar schools, we will need to face some hard decisions.
Whilst it is true that Lincolnshire is set to gain overall as an authority, all but three of the grammar schools in the county are set to lose under the new arrangements
“For the moment, sadly, the Government’s education spending plan seems akin to a rearrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic.”
Fears that most grammar schools in England could see their funding drop under the reforms has led some heads to warn of spending cuts.
Michele Anderson, headmistress at Spalding High School, said: “It is vitally important for parents and the local community to be aware that the financial cuts to all public services we have seen in recent years has also had a critical impact on school funding.
“Despite what successive governments have said about maintaining educational budgets, we have seen our budget reduced in real terms for several years now.
“This, alongside inequalities in national funding, curriculum and examination change across every key stage or the rising cost of (buildings), salaries, national insurance and pension contributions, mean that schools constantly struggle with the challenge of maintaining provision and setting a balanced budget.
“If our school was in London, we would be allocated £5,500 for each of our Key Stage Three (KS3) pupils per year.
“At our school, the allocation is just over £3,000 per KS3 pupil, a difference of over £150,000 per year on our budget which would make a massive impact to what we could do at the High School.
“I support the ideal of the National Funding Formula as we have seen regional inequalities such as this for far too long.
“However, it is still disappointing to see that far more more schools appear to lose under the new system than originally anticipated.
“Even so, Spalding High School is not planning to ask parents to fund core provision.”
Jonathan Maddox, headmaster of Bourne Grammar School, said: “We are and, for as long as I can recall, have been the worst-funded secondary school in Lincolnshire on a per-student basis.
“But because we know this, and know that it is likely to continue, we deal with it and run a very tight ship.
“Our decision to expand our intake was taken for a range of reasons, but long-term financial security - knowing that our funding position was unlikely to improve - was certainly one of them.
“This strategy has worked well for us and as we have expanded, and the cuts to our funding have come through, we have managed every aspect of our school with constant and forensic financial scrutiny.
“We are guided by our auditors who, in addition to assisting us in our financial strategy, provide annual benchmarking data which confirms, consistently, that our school is run efficiently.
“As much of our annual budget as possible goes directly on providing for the education of our students and we do not need to make damaging cuts to balance our budget.
We are able to run the School on our current budget, and on our projected budget, so we will not be cutting subjects, we will not be cutting pastoral care and we will not be sending students home for one afternoon or for one day every week.
“The Government is introducing a new funding methodology for schools this year and, as one of the worst-funded, we hoped that we would benefit.
“But we did not assume that we would benefit and our financial projections were made, assuming that our funding would reduce over the next few years, as it seems that it will.
“However, we have planned and budgeted for this situation so I can confirm that there are no plans to ask parents to make voluntary contributions to our coffers.
“Parents should expect to continue seeing their children receiving a superb all-round education, at a well-equipped and well-staffed school, without them needing to worry about how it is all paid for.”