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School funding: is there a postcode loophole?

Is school funding a postcode lottery? Read how the 2017 Autumn Budget may help address the budget fundraising loophole in affluent areas.

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With the Chancellor’s Autumn Budget announced today, the topic of school funding is still one of ongoing debate. The November budget has revealed that the government will allocate £40 million in teacher training funds for under-performing schools, and will recruit 8,000 new computer science teachers, costing £84 million.

Discussions around school cuts in 2017 have remained at the top of the news agenda, largely in a hope to influence decision-making around resource allocation to education, in the wake of school funding cuts the UK has faced. While there is new budget allocation on the horizon, based on need rather than geography, until now the situation has varied incredibly from one geographical area to another. This is not only due to government funding inequalities but a fundraising loophole in affluent areas.

More needs-based distributed funds

A new National Funding Formula (NFF) for schools is to be introduced in April 2018 as a new way of distributing funds to individual institutions. According to the Education Secretary, Justine Greening, “The resources that the government is investing in our schools will be distributed according to a formula based on the individual needs and characteristics of every school in the country.”

While the NFF certainly sounds like a positive step for school budget allocation, the backdrop of school funding has been tumultuous. Analysis by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) suggested that the most poorly funded schools historically received £1.9 million less than the best funded. Head teachers are adamant that such austere cuts means a loss of valuable staff.

Is school funding a postcode lottery?

Educators have been warning that funding across much of the sector has the characteristics of a postcode lottery; some schools at the bottom of the funding distribution facing critical financial challenges.

The ASCL analysis showed that schools in the top ten areas received grants of £6,297 per pupil in 2015-16, compared with an average of £4,208 per pupil in the 10 most poorly funded areas. The stark reality is that many schools are reliant on donations or fundraising projects to top up their cash pot for front of class interactive technology such as Promethean ActivPanels, and extra-curricular activities.

What’s more, there’s an unspoken fundraising loophole for schools in more prosperous areas, contributing to greater inequality between well-off areas and disadvantaged families.

Parents often raise money for their schools through their local Parent Teacher Association (PTA). In areas of affluence, however, parents generally prefer to send their children to local state schools where most of the catchment area includes other affluent parents. Such communities choose to donate heavily to their children’s schools, topping up the budget for edtech and other education-enhancing tools.

Naturally, affluent communities have deeper pockets for financial resources to support their local schools, not to mention the time and social capital needed to organise the fundraising activities themselves.

With such well-funded local state schools, private schools are an unnecessary expense, contributing to the generosity of local families. It’s an ever-increasing circle that widens the gap in inequality.

Ways to raise money for your school

While the new Budget may address the inequalities across different areas, many schools will continue to rely on fundraising for extra income.

Even in less prosperous areas, the best way to raise money for your school is to provide something unique that adds genuine value to those in the local community. School fundraising ideas like beer tastings, street food parties, school sleepovers and affiliate programs can all significantly contribute to a school’s money pot for additional resources.

School cuts in 2017 will be an ongoing debate into the next financial year, despite some positive signs of school funding redistribution. Addressing the needs of individual schools as well as the historic geography-based funding will hopefully contribute to a fairer allocation of funds.

The bottom line, however, is that schools will continue to rely on fundraising to add extra money for resources. While there will always be advantages for schools in more prosperous areas, all schools can take active measures to generate more income in cost-effective, creative ways.

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