Education Column: Sheffield headteachers have got some tough decisions to make about funding

Headteachers in some Sheffield schools are facing tough decisions over how to cope with the new funding formula that looms over some educational sites like a cumulonimbus storm cloud.

Thursday, 24th May 2018, 6:04 am
Updated Saturday, 26th May 2018, 3:54 pm
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I’m aware that meetings have already taken place to decide what can be done.

Options on the table include reducing the timetable to a four-and-a-half-day week, or maybe even a four-day week. And, of course, there is the very real prospect of making more teaching assistants redundant.

The new funding formula, the government are quick to point out, will deliver extra cash to Sheffield. That’s a good thing.

But the way its being distributed has an element of Chuckle Brothers organisation about it. Some schools will benefit massively and plenty of others – mainly primaries – will lose out.

While some schools are hatching emergency plans, others are about to do quite nicely – especially grammar schools. So what can the city’s beleaguered primaries do to improve their fate?

It’s true that many schools could take more action to tighten their belts. I’ve been in a school recently where controls over photocopying were so lapse that sheets were being printed in colour and then thrown away after the lesson instead of being saved for future use. But it’s still a drop in the ocean.

There are other schools where the headteacher obstinately refuses to teach any lessons, including cover, which can pump up the amount spent on supply staff.

And some academy chains I’ve been into are well-known for frittering away money on excessive salaries for CEOs, executive headteachers and business managers.

Other schools are looking at the possibility of selling off some of their land, a controversial local issue but one that will raise its head more often as we step into an unfunded future.

So, there are measures which Sheffield schools could be doing to ‘futureproof’ themselves against the new funding formula, some of which are easier to stomach than others. We have to accept more can be done to make schools efficient.

But there are some schools in Sheffield – some of the most poorly funded in the land – that are as lean as lean can be. They’ve had audits to look for further savings, and there are none to be had.

It’s the plight of these schools that make the new funding formula appear so grossly unfair, the fact that we have schools struggling in this city due to a lack of cash whereas a similar Manchester school would bag an additional £800,000 a year.

Rubbing salt in the city’s already open wound was the announcement that there is further £50 million available for grammar schools to share out, as long as they prove they are helping disadvantaged children.

I have three problems with this. Firstly, there are no grammar schools in Sheffield so it’s not going to help this city’s disadvantaged pupils, further widening the gap we find ourselves the wrong end of.

Secondly, this is another example of Theresa May’s obsession with grammar schools, a policy she hopes will buy votes without a shred of evidence that it will benefit education.

Finally, I have a problem with the very idea that grammar schools help disadvantaged children. They don’t. They help give a leg up to privileged families who can pay a tutor to guide their little darlings through the entrance test.

Even more sickening is the news that grammar schools were already due to do very nicely out of the funding formula anyway. They were 24 times more likely to have a ten per cent boost in their funds than other primaries and secondaries. Across the nation, there are 313 secondaries getting a double digit rise in annual funding – and 51 of these are grammar schools.

This vastly overstates their position in the nation as a whole and just goes to prove that the Department for Education has got their priorities for funding our schools into a frightful mess.