Last week David Laws, the Minister of State, announced new funding allocations for schools that would disadvantage no school, but add some £350 million to funding for schools in around 60 local authorities. These were mostly shire counties, but there were a smattering of London boroughs and unitary authorities. https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/fairer-schools-funding-2015-to-2016 Apart from Bury, Salford, Barnsley and Walsall, the Metropolitan Districts were conspicuously absent from the list.
Generally, the announcement was greeted with pleasure. After all, extra cash is always welcome, especially as it came on the same afternoon that the Treasury was taking cash away from schools to pay for the increase in funds to the hypothetical teachers’ pension fund. However, pleased as I am to see more cash going into schools, I did wonder whether the poorest authorities with the largest increases in cash had lots of schools with deficits because they were so poorly funded at present? Bromley, the largest gainer by authority, with an 11.3% increase, mostly has secondary schools that are academies, so it is difficult to know their financial position. However, it had 16 primary schools with reserves at the end of 2012-13 in excess of the guideline eight per cent, and only six primary schools with a deficit. Even more curiously, the Primary School with a reported total revenue balance of more than 16% scored poorly on the Ofsted dashboard, being in the lowest quintile for Key Stage 2 outcomes on certain factors. They may need more money, but should surely be spending the cash that they are given. Shropshire, a county that receives some 6.2% more under the Laws’ plan, had a greater mix of schools with deficits and above guideline balances at the end of 2012-13, but again one of the schools with significant balances performs less well than the national average at Key Stage 2.
I don’t know whether any of these schools have used the parable of the talents in their school assembly, but they certainly need to be questioned about whether they have taken the message behind the parable to heart. I have consistently maintained that revenue income is there to be spent in the year it arrives, and not to be squirreled away for some possible emergency or future capital project. If the message really is that poor performing schools are too often cautious with their cash, and this is holding back their pupils, then something needs to be done about it, and quickly. Otherwise, the extra cash won’t add value where it is really needed.
There is one further question about the announcement. In rural areas, the School Forum, for it they and not local authorities as the document seems to imply that set funding parameters, could choose to use a sparsity factor in their formula. Some, including Oxfordshire’s Forum didn’t do so. Was this a strategic mistake, and might the outcome have been even more cash for the county’s schools if they had done so? This just goes to show how complicated the whole funding business has become. Still, at least all the cash now remains within education, and cannot be siphoned off into other services.