Proposed changes in the way rural schools in North Dorset and elsewhere are funded will bring in more money but should not be seen as a ‘windfall’ solution, says a leading teaching union. In December the government said it will change the current way schools are funded, which critics say has left many rural schools in the country receiving less cash per pupils than urban establishments. In Dorset, it is estimated that schools get around 30% less money per pupil than the top-funded schools in some inner cities. The funding formula changes has led to hopes that local schools such as those in Gillingham will get a major injection of cash. But the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has warned that even with extra funding, competing costs such as salaries, national insurance and pensions could still see many local schools worse off in real terms over the coming few years. Indeed, according to the www.schoolcuts.org.uk website run by the NUT and other organisations Gillingham School is set to suffer a real terms shortfall of £319,084 between now and 2019, the equivalent of £232 a pupil, when all these other costs are taken into account.
The NUT’s Dorset president Matthew Lake, who teaches at Gillingham School, says such figures are a reminder that changes in the funding formula to the benefit of rural schools – which are being introduced gradually – will not have a major impact unless more money overall is pumped into education.
‘Parents in North Dorset should not expect a sudden jump in funding for our schools, and at the same time we’ll be losing money because of, for example, rising National Insurance contributions, increased pension costs, the new apprenticeship levy and a 1% pay rise for staff. So it could still be that our budgets will stay flat or even find ourselves with a bit less money each year,’ he said.
‘I don’t want to give parents in North Dorset the impression that we are suddenly going to become cash rich because we’re not. I think most schools will be able to eke by as opposed to having any cash windfalls.’
Gillingham School’s headteacher Lorna Lyons pointed out that on its annual budget of £8 million a 1% increase in salaries meant an extra £80,000 had to be found each year just to cover those costs and that costs overall were going up by several percentage points cumulatively year after year. ‘It’s not that you get less money, it’s just that the money has to stretch that much further,’ she said. ‘We’re not, as a school, in meltdown. But everyone is very, very concerned how this is going to work year after year, as it gets more difficult each year. What are going to be the consequences on what we are able to provide and what we are able to do?’