Sheffield Schools Need Fair Funding

Published: 19 May 2018
Our Chief Executive, Stephen Betts, makes the case for fairer funding for Sheffield schools in an article taken from the Sheffield Telegraph.


There is considerable anxiety over budgets in schools and academies across the city. There are multiple reasons for this and it can be difficult to unpick the impact of a new National Funding Formula, the real terms funding cuts that stems from multiple years of ‘stand still budgets’ and the historic underfunding of Sheffield in comparison with similar places.  


The National Funding Formula (NFF) will remove local decision making from the funding process and is supposed to address long standing inequalities between different parts of the country. Sheffield will be a net beneficiary of this change to the tune of £5.8m in the next (2018/19) school year. The reality is that this is nowhere near enough to address the long-term underfunding of Sheffield.


This increase in the funding for the city does not mean that all Sheffield schools are better off, certainly when the rising costs and stand-still budgets of recent years have been factored in. Within the city the impact of the NFF, when it is finally fully implemented, will generally benefit secondary schools but leave many primary schools in a worse position. This is because the local formula has historically been balanced more in favour of primary schools than secondary schools. For this reason the Schools Forum in Sheffield decided to phase the implementation of the NFF to give primary schools more time to make changes.


In reality there are reasons for all schools to be anxious about the situation. Secondary schools are facing further cuts as they wait for a budget increase which, in many cases, will be less than the cuts they have made over the past five years. Primary schools, in increasing numbers across the next three years, face budget deficits which they cannot navigate without unpalatable reductions in the quality of the provision that they offer.


The funding debate is highly charged in Sheffield for two reasons. The first is that the City Council have attempted to model the funding for 2020/21 so that schools can start to consider the issues of a fully implemented NFF. In many places this debate hasn’t started yet. The second is that Sheffield remains extremely poorly funded in comparison with other similar places.


Sheffield is the poor relation in terms of education funding. This ranges from relatively small gaps to the rest of South Yorkshire and Leeds, which is the second worst funded core city, up to eye watering gaps when Sheffield is comparted to Liverpool, Birmingham, Nottingham and Manchester.   

In some cases this position is despite a narrowing of the gap. In Nottingham, for example, funding has reduced by £288 per pupil when compared to 2015/16 whilst Sheffield has seen a rise of £101 per pupil in the same time period. This narrows the gap considerably but still leaves a difference of £589 per pupil next year. If Sheffield received the same average funding as Nottingham we would have an astonishing £41.8m more each year across the school budgets of the city.

In other cases the position has actually worsened. Manchester has seen a larger increase than Sheffield (+£186 per pupil compared to 2015/16) and so that gap has widened. Next year the average per pupil funding in Manchester is £743 more than it is Sheffield. If Sheffield received the same average funding as Manchester we would have £52.8m more in our education system every year.

These figures are so large that it can be difficult to translate into the real world. If we compare the implications for a single school then it becomes easier to compute. Sheffield primary schools have an average of 354 pupils. If a school of this size was in Birmingham (the third best funded core city) it would receive a budget increase of just above £195,000. If it was in Manchester it would have more than £260,000 in additional funding every year.




An average sized Sheffield secondary school would receive £822,000 more each year if it was situated in Manchester. When these figures are translated in extra teachers, support staff, resources and training it is not difficult to see how much difference it would make to the quality of provision that could be provided.


There is, quite rightly, outrage at the unfairness of this position and yet our funding position is in sharp contrast to the outcomes that are achieved. Sheffield has some of the strongest outcomes of all core cities. There are twenty key measures against which we can compare our performance and we are in the top three core cities for 70% of them, ranging from Early Years through to A-level.  Imagine what we could do if we got the same level of funding.


It is important to disentangle the two issues here. First and foremost, the government is not funding education sufficiently and secondly Sheffield share of that funding continues to be extremely unfair. Sheffield schools have done an amazing job to stretch their budgets and still improve performance, we now need to support them in their campaign for appropriate funding before those budgets snap.


Stephen Betts (Learn Sheffield CEO)

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