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I’d beg if I had to…

As the Headmaster of a Catholic School with Christmas looming large on the horizon, I want to write about the hope that the birth of Jesus Christ symbolises for the world. As well as talk about the message of peace and love that is embodied in the baby Jesus and how this is an apt message for us to reflect on in these troubled times where so much of the national and international discourse seems to be shrouded in fear and hate.

I would then perhaps like to reflect on the amazing achievements we have seen in the term just gone: from the beauty of our carol service; to the sheer guts and courage of our year 7 rugby team who have played 10 matches and not yet conceded a try; then praise the endeavour and hard work I see each day in our classrooms.

I would perhaps like to praise the dedication of our staff, all of them, for focussing on our children to make sure that they all grow, flourish and understand the importance of a life that is ambitious (in the best sense) whilst also putting themselves at the service of others.

However, sadly, my focus once again is drawn down the miserable path of school finances and the cringe inducing debate surrounding the statement on the National Funding Formula (NFF).

I want to be very clear, there are real inequalities in the system and they need addressing but let’s not pretend that the NFF will solve all the problems of school finance. They won’t!

What is clear is that some schools will win enough to be able to standstill without making further cuts in 2018/19 and possibly 2019/20 but others will not.

Based on the DFE spreadsheet, we would see a 0.2% increase in funding in 2018/19 or about £7000. At least we’re not losing out but it doesn’t feel like we’re winning either.

Far worse than this though is that there is no acknowledgement that there is a problem now. That schools have already had a real terms budget cut. That more money is needed in the overall pot not simply redistributing money around the system.

The National Audit Office said this week that schools face at least an 8% budget cut by 2019/20. A cut of £3 billion from the system.

The response seems to be that schools are receiving more funding than ever before! However, even my nine-year-old son can see that argument doesn’t stack up! Houses cost more than ever before, so do wages, food bills, utility costs – that’s the way the economy works!

The important question is: Does the funding match the needs of schools and rise in line with costs? The answer is a decisive, unequivocal and unarguable NO!

If, in some fantasy world, I was made the Secretary of State for Education and I wanted to really help schools, I would go to the Chancellor and ask, get down on my knees and beg if necessary, to free up some money for schools now.

If, in my fantasy world, the Chancellor asked me where to find the money from I would tell him to do the following things:

1.    Take back the 2.4% pension contribution increase
2.    Reduce schools NI contributions by 2%
3.    Make all schools exempt from paying the new apprenticeship levy
4.    Go back on the announcement to scrap the educational services grant from 2017/18

MOST IMPORTANTLY:

5.    Make a cast iron commitment to match increases in costs to real terms increases in funding

Yes, this would mean extra money needed to be found but, on a national scale, this is not a significant amount and it would mean that most schools, if they budgeted carefully and used their resources wisely, could run their school effectively without the threat of having to cut staffing or restructure their curriculum.

All we’re asking for is a fighting chance. At the end of the day it’s about prioritising our children and providing them with a world class education and I would feel no shame in begging if I had to…

Sean Maher
16th December 2016