Northumberland school is worst funded, but best performing in the country

Ponteland Middle School is among the top performing schools in the country, but it receives the least amount of Government funding

Ponteland Middle School pupils Claudia Edwards, 12 and Maddie Jenkins, 13
Ponteland Middle School pupils Claudia Edwards, 12 and Maddie Jenkins, 13

A school in Northumberland is performing among the best in the country despite being the worst funded middle school in England.

According to Department for Education (DfE) figures, Ponteland Middle School receives the lowest budget share per pupil compared with anywhere in the country. To make matters worse, over the last two years has seen £140,000 slashed from its school kitty by the local authority.

At just over £3,000 per pupil, the school’s figures are in stark contrast to the highest funded secondary school in the country – Woolston Community High School, in Warrington – which receives £14,000 for each child.

Despite this gap the school, which has more than 560 pupils, has been rated outstanding by Ofsted inspectors for the past five years.

Headteacher Caroline Pryer said Northumberland County Council top-sliced the school’s funding by £75,000 for the financial year 2012/13 to support smaller schools across the county and this year it is scheduled to lose a further £59,000.

“We’ve been told we don’t spend money so we don’t need it,” said Dr Pryer. “But that’s just absurd. If we had the money we would be investing it in updating our IT equipment, repairing our crumbling car parks and replacing our teaching mobiles which are 30 years old and desperately need to go.

“Our PE department was recently rated outstanding but even our changing rooms need refurbishing. We’re working towards building an all-weather sports pitch but we need to raise the money first, which is proving very difficult.

“With such a limited amount of money coming in we have to be careful about any repair or maintenance work we do.”

While school improvements have been put on hold due to financial constraints, Dr Pryer says the school’s scarce resources has to be spent on the staff.

“We invest more money on teachers and teaching assistants than anything else,” she said. “We need that £140,000 because that’s a lot of money to disappear over two years. We have a very tight year ahead of us but we’re still very much committed to the children.

“Even though we’re the worst funded middle school in the country we are still using our energy to improve the school’s facilities and provide an all-weather pitch.”

Coun Robert Arckless, policy board member for children’s services at Northumberland County Council said funding for all schools in Northumberland is calculated using a formula which complies with national requirements.

He said: “As a local authority we have to divide a very limited pot of money from government for all 170 schools in a fair and transparent way. This pot of money from the Government has been shrinking over recent years putting more pressure on all the services that the council provides.

“The main factor in determining the level of funding is the number of pupils at each school, which covers almost 72% of the total allocation. The rest is based on a number of factors including deprivation levels, exceptional circumstances, split sites and additional help for small rural schools.

“All of these factors have been introduced to meet specific needs within Northumberland and were agreed at the schools forum following consultation with all schools.

“We’re completely open about the formula for schools in Northumberland and a budget share for each school is available on our website.”

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