What’s going on regarding the funding of Sheffield schools right now, and the way the future is looking for our children, is a like A Tale of Two Cities.
The new national funding formula is the best of times for some schools, the worst of times for others. An average sized secondary school in Sheffield is likely to get more money over the next two years, whilst many primary schools face cuts.
But that same averaged sized secondary school will still get over £800,000 a year less than a similar one in Manchester. That last sentence sickened me to write. It’s quite a disgustingly unfair prospect.
Education is currently at a crossroads. Whichever way it turns, there is not likely to be enough funding. A major issue at the moment is how that funding is being managed - or mismanaged, as is the case is our fine city.
Funding goes to school largely on a per pupil basis. While the amount for each individual student may seem minuscule, the added total of all these sums allows a school to function - barely, in some cases.
Whilst it is right and proper that disadvantaged areas receive more cash to help deal with their problems, number crunchers and policy makers seem to have got the wrong idea about what Sheffield is like and it makes you wonder if they have ever visited.
Not so long ago, South Yorkshire was receiving Objective 1 funding from the EU because it was so deprived an area and in chronic need of investment. Today, the government reckon our children don’t need as much to fund their schooling as kids in Manchester and Liverpool.
The hideous gaps in funding between schools in Sheffield and elsewhere means there is a huge difference in the staff and resources accessible to our children and it is definitely going to have an impact on life chances.
Headteachers in Sheffield primary schools hold meetings to decide how staff and resources can be cut to make up a budget deficit, knowing full well that counterparts in Birmingham schools have over £100,000 extra to play with each year.
It is, of course, a nonsense and we have to wake up to fact that Sheffield is being handed a raw deal.
It is not right that funding in Manchester gives schools an extra £743 per pupil. Of course it isn’t. How can such a figure be justified? It is not right that kids in Nottingham get £589 per pupil extra. And it certainly isn’t right that schools across the M1 in Rotherham get £213 extra per pupil.
Those figures add up to millions of pounds difference in the education funding situation of other cities when comparedSc to Sheffield. In the case of Manchester, it means they get over £50m more.
The amount of good that could be done with that money is obvious. Better provision of special needs, better classroom resources, better buildings, better classroom support, better investment in disadvantaged children.
Some Sheffield Headteachers are excited as they look forward to a share of the few million pounds extra that Sheffield schools will get next year. But they are not really winners here, merely making up ground they have recently lost.
And the gap between “us” and “them” is still huge. To make matters worse, our money is being divided up grossly unfairly.
Even though we will benefit as a city, some schools - mainly primaries - are going to lose out and shed staff.
The people who work out complicated formulas to distribute this public money may think they have come up with a fool proof calculation. But they should minimise their table of data and look in the mirror, asking themselves if they have the courage to admit to their monumental cock up.
These kinds of disparities have no place in contemporary Britain, even if the government does seem adept at reintroducing Dickensian style poverty.
This funding policy is not fair on the children of Sheffield. The government would have us believe this is the age of wisdom. Time will show it to be the age of foolishness.