Guest Column: Balancing the school budget with new Government rules

Coun Philip Owen, chairman of children and young people's committee at Nottinghamshire County Council
Coun Philip Owen, chairman of children and young people's committee at Nottinghamshire County Council

This coming new academic year is significant because of the introduction of the National Funding Formula (NFF) for schools, high needs and central school services as part of the Government’s changes to national schools funding overall.

Each year, the county council has to agree the formula it will adopt for funding all mainstream primary and secondary maintained schools, academies, free schools and early years providers.

Following consultation with all schools, the Schools Forum – which has a consultative role on behalf of Nottinghamshire schools and early years providers – recommended that the county’s arrangements should, as far as possible, mirror the Government’s newly-introduced NFF.

Nottinghamshire will receive £469 million overall which is £16.4 million more for the current financial year than last year.

This is good news because, historically, Nottinghamshire is a low-funded authority.

Around half of this rise is down to increased pupil numbers,.

But the rest is made up of some additional Government funding as a result of the NFF, which the council has passed onto the county’s schools.

And whilst some of them have rising pupil numbers and can expect to see a slight increase in their overall funding, for others – where pupil numbers may be falling slightly or where children’s needs are changing – there may be no change or a decline in funding.

Out of the county’s 325 schools, which between them have more than 106,000 pupils, 232 have gained up to 2.75 per cent more funding on the previous year.

Some 93 will see a reduction in their budgets.

What individual schools actually receive is based on a number of factors including deprivation, attainment levels and whether schools manage children with additional and special needs.

Local authorities also receive funding to meet the needs of children and young people aged from nought to 25 who have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

But, like many other councils, Nottinghamshire is faced with increased pressure to support these children resulting in the grant funding for them being insufficient.

To alleviate this pressure, the council has also transferred £2.3 million from the total monies it receives from the Government to the pot ring-fenced for SEND youngsters.

It has also introduced other measures outside of the new funding formula.

In real terms, schools nationally are continuing to have to operate under severe financial pressures.

This leaves many struggling to service an increasing wage bill and other inflationary increases, together with a shortage of teachers.

The council recognises this and it is committed to this county’s children and young people getting the education they rightly deserve.

But it’s a delicate juggling act.

The council has to adopt a spirit of fairness whilst at the same time always having an eye on where needs and pressures are greatest.