Hey big spender

This week the DfE released the fact that the total Schools Budget for 2013-14 is in the order of £39 billion, give or take some £200 million*. Now, since academies and other direct grants schools are funded on a school-year basis and the community and voluntary schools that receive income passported through local authorities receive their funding on a financial year basis, the figure for this year isn’t comparable to previous years.

In addition to the Schools Budget, about £10 billion will be spent by local authorities on other children’s services, and education not related directly to schools. Individual schools budgets make up some 87% of the total Schools Budget this year, with central services, and areas such as transport accounting for the remainder of the expenditure. Over the next few years that 13% spent outside schools is likely to be reduced as councils across the country seek savings from back office functions, and also rationalise transport and other services.

Once again the remaining music services are the types of discretionary services likely to come under pressure, with councils transferring their running costs entirely to schools. It would be a great tragedy if Michael Gove’s relentless pursuit of a school-led education service, coupled with the hang-over from the economic crisis, ended one of the real success stories of the post-war education system.

Nationally, the average pupil will cost the government some £4,350 this year, but that appears to range from £6,935 in Tower Hamlets to £2,134 just across the river in Bexley. Although, as that is £1,600 less than the next authority it might be down to some accounting quirk regarding academies or another part of the calculations. London authorities, with their higher staffing costs, account for sixteen of the top 20 authorities in terms of per capita Schools Budgets. Since their secondary students also benefit from free transport under the TfL budget the figure would no doubt be even higher if this element was included.

Currently SEN transport costs an average of £69 per pupil across the country, and other home to school transport £51 per pupil. Given that the latter costs are mostly in the rural authorities, the cost to those authorities is obviously much higher.

Rather than the universal benefit of a limited period ‘cash freeze’ for consumers, the Labour Leader might have designed an energy policy to help reduce these costs to local authorities, perhaps by a national fuel purchasing scheme that allowed school buses and other community transport to run on lower priced fuel.

Whether a Department at Westminster serving both schools and the other functions supporting children’s welfare makes any sense these days is a matter for debate. The spending functions logically sit alongside many other social expenditure functions of councils, and the monitoring of schooling can be subsumed within a regulatory framework that includes services such as trading standards. After all, monitoring performance is soon going to be the only real education function left for local authorities, if the government at Westminster has its way.

* https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/244055/SR35-2013.pdf

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