Unfair funding forces Sidmouth head to seek staff-cuts

UNFAIR regional funding from Government has left Sidmouth College faced with having to seek voluntary redundancies among its 100 teaching and support staff.

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UNFAIR regional funding from Government has left Sidmouth College faced with having to seek voluntary redundancies among its 100 teaching and support staff.

It is among 37 Devon secondary schools that finds their budgets severely stretched by Government's massive regional differences in funding.

The county is 146th out of 149 education authorities in a table showing how much is allocated per child through the dedicated schools grant.

This year, while London boroughs such as City of London - top of the list - gets �7,603 per child, Devon pupils get half that at �3,843.

Also, Government wants heads like Sidmouth's Jeremy Roberts, to find efficiency savings of one percent each year.

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"It is an unreal situation, we can't set a deficit budget. We can't carry on educating young people with the present budget, then someone from Whitehall is saying schools should see a one percent saving which they hope to achieve through efficiency cuts," said Mr Roberts.

Having pared down spending by cutting 'soft' targets such as reducing photocopying, replacing text books less often and making do with computers longer, he said there was nowhere else to go but look for savings in staffing.

"We have permission from Devon County Council to make redundancies and DCC has agreed to pick up the cost of these. Formal proceedings are in place."

He said school governors would be leading negotiations.

"The target is to come in with a balanced budget. We have to see if we can achieve that and deliver the curriculum with less."

Mr Roberts said redundant staff would leave at the end of the summer term and restructuring of teachers' roles would be carried out by September.

"It is something of a challenge," he explained. "I want us to have a sustainable budget and other schools are facing the same things."

With a national agreement over pay and conditions for teachers, it is unlikely a pay freeze could be introduced to save jobs.

"A three-year settlement is being worked through now, we have to honour the agreed pay increase. If the budget has no elasticity it is very difficult to accomplish.

"This is an unreal situation to be in. We are expected to deliver national policy, fund people on national levels but funding is determined locally."

If Sidmouth College had the average amount allocated to schools through the Government funding criteria it would be an extra �1.4million better off in 2009 "and there would be no problem at all."

Mr Roberts said: "I believe it is time to have a national funding structure for schools to reflect the fact of nationally driven costs and expectations.

"Why should a child in Devon not be funded at the same level as a child elsewhere? There needs to be flexibility, but I absolutely refuse to accept that a child's education in Devon is worth that much less."

He said Devon Association of Secondary Heads (DASH), DCC and the F40 group, made up of representatives of the 40 lowest-funded authorities, were making strong representations to Government over inequalities of funding students in different areas.

"If Government can have a national funding formula for academies, there is no reason why they can't do it for all schools. It is political decision making."

Agreeing some deprived areas needed added investment, Mr Roberts described the current criteria as "distorted".

Referring to the need to cut staff, he said: "At the moment there is no other road to go down. Long term planning needs to look to restructure the budget and increase income."

He sees several ways to do this, by recruiting more students; both at Year Seven and Years 12/13 levels, and continuing to aim for high performing specialist schools status, which would add money to the pot.

"This is the cutting edge of education and we want to be part of it," he said.

Unlike some schools nationally, Sidmouth has been unable to save money from its annual budget for future projects. Any future building would, says Mr Roberts, be projects funded through private finance initiatives.

A two-year project to review the dedicated schools grant was announced last year by schools minister Jim Knight, so that a single funding formula could be developed for 2011-2014.

Mr Roberts made the following invitation to Mr Knight: "Please take national funding for schools seriously and please come and visit Sidmouth College and tell me where you think I can make efficiency savings.

"If you are serious about tackling this ridiculous situation where the costs of education are largely driven nationally, but funding decisions are made locally, talk to serving school leaders.