An online survey allowing people to comment on the future of school funding has been branded “ridiculously technical”.
The consultation into the government’s new National Funding Formula ends on March 22, and members of the public have until then to complete the 12-page questionnaire.
The use of terms such as ‘sparsity funding’, ‘weightings for additional needs factors’, ‘funding floor’, ‘central school services block funding’ and ‘equalities analysis’ in the questionnaire has left some people baffled.
Parent Sarah Tosey described the survey as “incredibly complex to complete”, adding: “As a parent of a child in a West Sussex secondary school, I would have no idea how to answer the questions.”
Her views were shared by John Gadd, head of Thomas a Becket Juniors, who said: “Generally the consultation document can best be summed up by one of my colleagues’ comments – ridiculously technical.”
He added: “There are a number of parents’ forums emerging both locally and nationally – I guess parents will voice their thoughts and opinions through these rather than trying to complete such a complex consultation document.”
Caitriona Bull, head of West Park School, said she was “not surprised” parents were struggling with the questionnaire.
She added: “I am thinking of completing my questionnaire and then sending my responses to our parents so they have them as guidance. I am not sure how ethical this is but it would be for guidance only rather than they must copy mine.”
In the County Times' sister paper the Worthing Herald, Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing & Shoreham shared his support for the ongoing Worth Less? campaign for fairer funding, and said it "really is essential that as many parents make their views known".
His call to action was praised by Ms Tosey, but she added: “If Tim Loughton is really keen for parents to show their views, I suggest that he either provides clear guidance on how to complete the complicated questionnaire, or suggests another way for us parents to tell the government how unfair the funding gap is and what is needed in the new funding formula.”
The Worth Less? campaign has seen headteachers fighting for fairer funding for almost two years.
A spokesman described the survey as “extremely technical and not at all user friendly for parents”.
He added: “Worth Less? will be providing parents with support soon. We are pleased that local MPs want parents/carers to contribute but feel they need to state how bad things are – both now and in under future proposals – much more explicitly.
“This will encourage much greater engagement.
“At times, it feels like we are sleep walking into a funding and recruitment crisis that can only be resolved by adequately funding schools rather than by failing to provide emergency help to West Sussex schools and then making future devastating financial cuts.”
The National Funding Formula was developed to reform the current unfair and outdated method of funding schools, which is more than a decade old.
Its introduction would see 10,740 schools gain extra money, while 9,128 schools would lose out.
A 3 per cent cap was placed on the amount schools could lose, while the same cap was placed on schools set to gain from 2018/19. That cap will fall to 2.5 per cent in 2019-20.
West Sussex MPs have encouraged parents to get involved with the consultation.
Jeremy Quin (Horsham) said: “The consultation is important which is why it is detailed and why the government has given it a much longer period than they are required to do.
“Heads I have spoken to have been delighted to advise parents submitting to the consultation. It is the most effective way to feed back comments on the proposed formula.”
Crawley MP Henry Smith said: "I appreciate that the length of the schools National Funding Formula consultation does reflect the complexities of the reform process. The Department for Education have published accompanying information, including an executive summary on the proposals under consultation."
He added: "If the survey cannot be completed all at once, there is a function to save what you have written and return to it later.
"However, if anyone would rather address a particular aspect of the consultation, or simply share views based on their own experiences, there are email addresses available for people to send in their comments."
Mr Smith said he was "pleased" the new funding formula would see schools in West Sussex receive an increase in funding of 8.4 per cent - equivalent to £5.7million - which he said was the second highest in England.
This would amount to around £79 per pupil for school which are already £402 per pupil short of the national average.
No mention was made of data published by the National Audit Office (NAO) in December, which said the country's schools needed to make savings of £3bn by 2019-20.
The NAO, which independently scrutinises public spending for Parliament, warned an increase in pupil numbers coupled with cost pressures, such as pay rises and higher contributions to national insurance and pension schemes, meant schools would actually be 8 per cent worse despite the new formula.
Michael Ferry, head of St Wilfrid's School, in Crawley, said of the questionnaire: "In terms of its complexity, it is not something that you can sit down and answer in 10 minutes and, given the nature of the questions, the level of knowledge required regarding the current funding position, so as to be able to answer the questions in detail, is high.
"The way it is structured does make it less accessible for parents/carers simply because they will not be fully aware of the current position in detail or the implications of some of the suggested answers."
Mr Ferry added that MPs had asked headteachers to encourage parents and carers to complete the consultation but said it would be "extremely difficult for anyone outside of education to complete it in any mindful way".
Nick Taunt, head of Bishop Luffa School, in Chichester, felt the problem lay much deeper than just the questionnaire.
He said: "The difficulty lies not with the survey but simply with the fact that the National Funding Formula and the background of schools funding generally is complex and carries its own jargon - ‘sparsity’, ‘pupil-led funding’ etc.
"Some schools have started to write a guide for parents to help them around the survey, and we shall be doing the same."
Mr Taunt said the message from West Sussex schools to the government had three clear points - the core funding should be enough for a school to run viably on its own; reducing that funding reduced leaders' ability to do so and highlighted the "gross unfairness" of funding between West Sussex and London schools; and the 3 per cent cap on the amount schools could lose with the new formula sustained the inequality between high and low-funded schools.
To take part in the consultation, log on to www.gov.uk/government/consultations/schools-national-funding-formula-stage-2 .
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