Changes to the rules governing how funding is allocated to schools could see some Cumbrian schools facing significant financial challenges, warns Cumbria County Council Leader Eddie Martin today.
The changes are the result of a Government shake up of the complicated formula that's used to work out how much cash individual schools get from the central funding pot that comes from Government, but is administered locally by the county council. In Cumbria that pot is worth around £ 260m a year.
Previously local council's were free to choose from a wide range of 37 factors when designing the formula that determines how much each school should receive. This allowed the council some flexibility, ensuring how funds were allocated reflected local needs and priorities.
This flexibility allowed Cumbria to i nclude an "Additional Fundi ng Allowance" designed to protect small schools.
But inconsistencies and a claimed lack of transparency in the old system has prompted Government to come forward with new rules aimed at making schools funding arrangements clearer, fairer and more consistent across the country.
Council's are now required to consider just 11 factors (i ncluding thi ngs like deprivation, numbers of Looked After Children and Special Educational Needs) when designing their "funding forumula". But the flexibility to include the "Additional Funding Allowance" has been removed.
These new arrangements significantly change how the funding pot will be split between schools. While the majority of schools would see little or no change, a substantial number would see increases in their budget of up to 25%. But for a minority of schools budgets could decrease by a similar amount.
Government has said that while the new rules come into force in April 2013 there will be a two year transition period during which no school's budget could decrease by more than 1.5%; their aim being to give schools time to make the changes that would allow them to manage on their new income. This means that the full effect of the changes will not be felt until 2015/16.
To try and minimise the disruption caused, the new rules allow the council to make a local decision about the allocation of a lump sum of cash of between £ 0 and £ 200,000 to all schools. This lump sum has to be same for all schools, secondary or primary. The choice of lump sum has a major effect on the impact of the new funding rules.
Based on the council's financial models a lump sum of £ 70,000 per school would minimise the number of schools that would see significant changes to their budgets. In this "best case" scenario, of Cumbria's 310 schools, 132 would see their budget increase by between 6% and 25% and 32 would see their budget decrease by between 6% and 31%. Changes at those 32 schools would affect 7,101 pupils. The remaining 146 schools would see little change.
By contrast the impact of a £ 200,000 lump sum would see all secondary schools lose an average of 17% of their budget, affecting over 28,000 pupils.
It is clear that the implications of these changes will not be limited to just those schools affected by budget cuts. In a large and diverse area such as Cumbria it is important that the right geographic spread of schools is maintained and therefore over the next two years the council will be exploring how to ensure that Cumbria continues to have schools located where they are needed.
The council has now (Monday 17 September) launched a consultation with the Schools Forum about how these new rules should be implemented in Cumbria and asking specifically about the level of lump sum amongst other issues.
Cumbria County Council Leader Eddie Martin said:
"This is a massive issue for Cumbria and I strongly believe that we need much longer than two years to implement these changes. Even with our best efforts to minimise the negative impact some schools would still lose out.
I don't disagree that the old system needed updating, arguably it wasn't always fair how funding was allocated. But Cumbria is different to many other parts of the country and this new system risks major disruption for schools, pupils, staff and communities.
I have written to all our local Cumbrian MPs asking for their support in making the case to Government that we need much more time to implement the changes and greater local flexibility to protect schools where closure simply wouldn't be an option; in some cases it would mean young children travelling very large distances to get an education. This is simply not acceptable and precisely why we have always previously made special allowance for these circumstances.
It is clear that the new rules are here to stay but Cumbria must be given more scope to be flexible in how we apply the rules. I am very concerned that without this the impact on some communities could be massive."
Cllr Duncan Fairbairn, Cumbria County Council Cabinet Member for Schools and Learning, said:
"The immediate implications of the new rules for individual schools in Cumbria are clear; our modelling shows that while many schools will benefit, some will lose out significantly.
But as we look to the future it is less clear how the knock-on effects will be felt across the county.
That is why we must have more time to implement the new rules. To rush these changes is not in the interest of schools or children's education."
The consultation with the Schools Forum will run until 19 October. The council's Cabinet will have to make a final decision on the implementation of the new rules, and notify the Department for Education of the new arrangements, by 31 October.
For more information contact Kieran Barr on 01228 226329 or email email@example.com
For general enquiries to Cumbria County Council's communications team contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01228 226338/ 221008/ 226601