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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Councillor raises concerns over Department for Education funding blunder

A government blunder will lead to Bradford schools receiving millions of pounds less than they were told they would just a few months ago.

One local Councillor believes the mistake could lead to the District’s biggest schools having to amend their upcoming budgets by up to £100,000 – and would lead to Bradford losing out on up to £4.6m.

And another Councillor says the funding error, which applies to school budgets for the next academic year, “could not have come at a worse time.”

Earlier this month the Department for Education apologised after an error by their officials meant schools would be awarded less funding for 2024/25 than they had been told they would receive as recently as July.

The mistake in calculating the National Funding Formula was down to an incorrect forecast in the number of pupils.

The error will mean schools will get £50 less per pupil in the coming year, and has lead to schools scrambling to re-calculate their budgets.

Councillor Jeanette Sunderland, Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson in Bradford, has raised concerns that the reduced funding could mean parents might have to pick up the shortfall – needing to provide their children with items like stationary that would otherwise have been provided by the school.

The Council’s Children’s Services Scrutiny Committee is currently undergoing an investigation into child poverty in the District.

Cllr Sunderland (Idle and Thackley) now wants the panel to investigate whether the Department for Education’s blunder might make the financial situation for cash strapped families even worse.

She has written to the Chair of the Committee Councillor Debbie Davies (Cons, Baildon) to include the changes in the investigation.

Cllr Jeanette Sunderland

Cllr Sunderland said: “For some of our secondary schools who are experiencing the greatest losses they have probably budgeted for, and now have to amend budgets, by around £100,000.

“That is a huge amount of money at a time when schools are under intense pressure from increased costs of energy, equipment and repairs.

“The total cost of the error is that Bradford’s schools will receive £4.6 million less that the figure originally published in July.

“The Child Poverty Action Group have estimated that parents are having to contribute the around £40 per week to the cost of having a child in secondary school, so it would be unreasonable to ask parents to pay more.

“I have spoken to teachers who say that many children and turning up to school without the basic equipment to get the best out of lessons and increasingly teachers are having to put their hands in their own pockets to fund pens, pencils and glue. No-one should be asked to do that.”

She has asked the committee to investigate the impact on children, their families and teachers.

She added: “I have also asked the Committee to investigate best practice in school in using the Pupil Premium, an initiative introduced by the Liberal Democrats in Government which has brought millions of pounds of additional funds to support children and young people who lives are impacted by the effects of poverty.

“I believe the time is right for the additional of a Bradford Pupil Premium top-up to support pupils with the basic learning kit needed to succeed.”

Cllr Davies told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that she had spoken to Cllr Sunderland about the issue.

A letter from Nick Gibb, Minister for Schools, was sent to all four teaching unions on Friday. It said: “The change followed an error by DfE officials.

“The Permanent Secretary has since written to the Education Select Committee and the Secretary of State to apologise for the error.

“The Secretary of State has asked the Permanent Secretary to carry out an external and independent evaluation of the quality assurance process for the National Funding Formula. Improvements have already been identified to ensure that similar mistakes are not repeated.

“This has, of course, been a very unfortunate error, and comprehensive measures are being put in place to ensure that it is not repeated.”

Councillor Imran Khan, Executive for Education, Employment and Skills, said: “Every pound

Cllr Imran Khan

schools receive is important in supporting the education of our children and young people. This is particularly so in the current financial climate when schools are under enormous financial pressure.

“The Department for Education miscalculating school funding for 2024-25 could not have come at a worse time. This error has not just affected us in the Bradford district, but schools across the whole country.

“We will do whatever we can to work with our affected schools locally on this and in the meantime the Labour party is rightly calling for an independent review into how this mistake was made and to prevent the government from making the same mistake again in the future.”

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