Schools in some of the most deprived areas of Hartlepool face having their budgets cut to move in line with government policy.
The town’s children’s services committee has agreed to reduce the proportion of schools’ budgets which is allocated on the basis of deprivation.
Assistant education director Mark Patton told the committee the ‘deprivation factor’ accounted for a greater proportion of budgets than in comparable council areas such as South Tyneside, Sunderland and Redcar and Cleveland.
Hartlepool’s 15% of budget was the highest of any council in the country.
“The deprivation factor in Hartlepool has been set at quite a high level to reflect the social and economic background of a lot of our children,” he said.
“However, there is a national policy you need to be aware of and that schools are very much aware of. There is a move towards a national funding formula for all schools.”
The level of deprivation funding across the town was usually agreed by the Schools Forum meeting of headteachers and approved by the committee.
But this year heads had been unable to reach an agreement. The implications of keeping the deprivation funding level at 15 per cent of budget or cutting the proportion to 12 or even nine per cent had been considered.
“It was very quickly decided that moving to 9% from 15% was too big a step for schools to manage sensibly,” said Mr Patton.
But heads had been unable to agree on whether to retain the 15% figure or move to 12%: “The vote was split right down the middle.”
It was important to be aware of the implications of any change for schools which received more cash under the current system: “I think it is quite sensible that headteachers are mindful of the national funding formula that is coming,” said Mr Patton.
“We are not quite clear on when, but we think it is likely to be this Parliament.”
Retaining the 15% figure for another year could leave schools facing a major shortfall in funding if the new formula was brought in soon.
He added: “If we stay at 15% for another year and that formula does come in after two years, moving from 15% to nine, to eight or seven, would be a big step for schools to manage.
“I would urge you to consider moving to a lower figure than 15% on the basis that we know it is coming in the future and I think it would be wise and prudent to prepare for that.”
Members agreed to a suggestion by chairman Coun Chirs Simmons that they ‘take the middle road’ between 15 and 12 per cent and reduce the deprivation factor funding to 13.5% of next year’s budgets.
“It is the coward’s way out, but we have to look out for the children of Hartlepool,” said Coun Simmons.
“I think it is a way to protect the children in the most deprived areas.”