Your help is needed – our funding is insufficient and getting worse!
We need you to campaign with us please for more funding for schools as there appears to be a lack of awareness and understanding at government level about the impact of their decisions and about the new “National Fairer Funding” formula not providing fairness in the way they and we had imagined. I have provided contact details for our local MP, Jack Lopresti, at the end of this update. I met with Jack last week and warned him to expect contact from parents/carers in Olympus Academy Trust schools. He has agreed to write to the Secretary of State for Education on our behalf as a starting point but that alone will not be enough.
Here are some of the “unthinkables” we have to consider for September in some or all of our schools:
- Reduce leadership time and roles
- Reduce support roles across the school e.g. pastoral support, family support, counsellor, administration and finance, technician, lunchtime supervisor, teaching assistant, cover supervisor…
- Increase class sizes and reduce the number of teachers employed
- Reduce planning time and increase teaching time for teachers
- Reduce the curriculum which will reduce choice for learners based on affordable class sizes
- Have some classes (and PPA cover in primaries) taught by non-specialist teachers
- Shorten the school day because we cannot afford to staff lessons for the whole week
- Reduce funding for purchasing, printing and resources inc. IT equipment
- Reduce enrichment and extra-curricular activity
- Charge parents/carers for activities we currently provide for free
- Ask parents/carers to make regular financial contributions to supplement school funding
It is always tricky telling people that there is not enough money to provide the services that have been taken for granted for a long time but we have reached crisis point along with most other schools in South Gloucestershire. As academies, we receive the same money as local authority maintained schools but our funding comes via the Education Funding Agency rather than South Gloucestershire Council. South Gloucestershire has been in the 5 (out of 150+) worst funded authorities for years which has meant that we have had less money to run our schools on an ongoing basis and we have also had less money in reserves as a result. We know that if our schools were in one of the best funded local authorities in the country (mainly in London), we could afford to employ twice as many staff as we have now. This is clearly unfair as it means that our learners are getting a worse deal just because of where they happen to live. One of the other factors for several of our schools is that because the buildings are almost new, people assume we have plenty of money. New buildings may not need as much repair but they are generally expensive to run because of their sophistication.
As a multi-academy trust with one bank account and one set of accounts (although each school has its own money within that), we are not allowed to go into debt (unlike local authority maintained schools) so we have to run the Trust and the schools on the money we are allocated via the formula for South Gloucestershire schools. We have had to make cuts year on year for several years now because of the government’s “austerity” policy which has meant “flat” budgets for education – in reality this has meant reduced funds to run our schools each year because we have had to pay for things along the way which previously we did not have to pay for such as increased employer pension and national insurance contributions for staff, the apprenticeship levy (a new tax from April this year), unfunded cost of living pay awards for staff, inflationary costs, provision of services that were funded externally before e.g. careers advice and guidance, behaviour and mental health support for students etc. It also goes without saying that if we try to employ staff on the cheap, we will not be an employer of choice and will not be able to recruit and retain the high quality staff we need to offer the education our learners deserve.
We know what our funding is for the next academic year and it is going to be our most challenging year yet. The financial position of The Olympus Academy Trust is currently secure, but we are having to take difficult decisions in order to maintain that position. The way the formula works, it looks as if it is going to be worse for our secondary schools than our primaries but hard for all. Our secondary schools are going to have to reduce spending by over 8% by September which equates to over £400,000 less in each school – this cannot be achieved by trimming around the edges and is going to require new ways of working. In addition to our own challenges, we have been informed that we are going to have to contribute for the next 3 years to a cumulative overspend of £7 million by South Gloucestershire Council on special educational needs (SEN) placements out of the area! To add insult to injury, they are currently considering reducing the amount of funding we receive to support students with SEN which could have a huge impact for us as we have 2 schools in the Trust with specialist Resource Bases which receive SEN funding in order to function.
Although we knew that next year would be hard, we were holding out hope for the much lauded “National Fairer Funding” formula which, over a period of time, should see schools being funded equally, regardless of where they are in the country. We have modelled our budgets for 2018-19 on the figures we have been given and, unbelievably for one of the 5 worst funded local authorities in the country, we are going to be a further 2% worse off than next year. This can in part be explained by no additional money being provided nationally but more children needing to be funded for education. The slice of the pie for each school and local authority is, therefore, smaller. The Bristol Post ran an article a couple of weeks ago in which they projected cuts for all schools in the area until 2020 which you may be interested to look at although we think the level of cuts will be worse than the article suggests: Bristol Post article about implications of National Fairer Funding
You may wonder why we have decided to share all this detail with you. There are 3 main reasons:
1) We have known that this perfect storm was brewing for some time and have reached a point where we need to share the information, in the spirit of openness and also to raise awareness.
2) We felt we needed to tell you about some of the very difficult decisions we are wrestling with so that they will not come as a surprise when there are changes to the way some things are done in some or all of our schools by September.
3) We need your support in raising awareness and campaigning with us for more funding.
Clearly the decisions we have to make are not being taken lightly and they are being taken at Trust level with involvement of the Olympus Academy Trust Board of Trustees who are ultimately responsible for what the Trust provides. Trustees are working closely with school and Trust senior leaders to plan for the “least worst” scenario but there will have to be reduction and it will have a negative impact. Our highest priority is to ensure the well-being and safety of all our learners and staff and to make sure that learning is not jeopardised by our decisions.
One of the advantages of working within a multi-academy trust is that we can create savings and efficiencies in the way we work across schools and through shared services and procurement. At present, we are looking into how we can protect more areas from reduction by working more closely together and by creating more shared roles and provision within both primary and secondary phases across the Trust.
Below are the contact details for Jack Lopresti, MP. Even a short letter or e-mail voicing your concern about the impact of current and future funding for our schools will help the cause. A template letter is here in case it is useful to you.
Jack Lopresti MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Thank you in anticipation of your continued support. We will provide further updates as we work our way through the budget-planning process in the coming weeks.
With best wishes,
CEO, The Olympus Academy Trust