School funding and outcomes

After the pomp and ceremony of Tuesday afternoon in Oxford, yesterday afternoon was devoted to attendance at a seminar arranged by the Centre for Education Economics around the topic of ‘school funding and outcomes’. The seminar was chaired by the Chief Executive of NfER and they also contributed one of the speakers. Other speakers included, an academic from the University of Surrey; a speaker from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and a civil servant from the National Audit office.

Data presented on the international evidence about funding and output used OECD data. This can be affected by the presence of so many different variables as to provide no clear signal, we need to know a lot more before any conclusions about direct causal relationship between funding levels and outcomes can be drawn. Teacher quality has featured as an important variable in some studies, especially in the USA, but even here it isn’t clear whether parental support and direct investment has been taken into account when looking at teacher outcomes.

The private spend by parents and the effects of such income on school outcomes needs further research and CfEE, the sponsors of the seminar, might like to look into how such influence might be researched. As long ago as 1986, I recorded a state school in Weybridge as including in its prospectus that ‘a donation of £14 requested from new pupils towards the school fund’. (Schools in London’s Commuterland). These days that same school now provides a list of support materials, including some that look like textbooks, parents may wish to provide for their offspring on arrival at the school. As an off-balance sheet expenditure it is difficult to measure the effects of such purchases on school outcomes, but the research community should try to do so.

Leaving aside the complexities of measuring teacher quality as a key variable in determining output levels, the seminar speakers and the audience, when asked to project forward how funding might change over time, were almost universally gloomy on the levels of school funding likely between now and the mid-2020s. Even beyond 2020, there is no clear picture, but rising pupil numbers and the prospect of a slowdown in the world economy at some point from present levels all seem to suggest continued funding challenges are likely, even if there isn’t any rebalancing of funds towards either or both of early years and further education.

The nightmare scenario of repaying student debt from existing government funding suggested by Labour must not be at the expense of other parts of the education system, including schools. Nevertheless, channelling funds to early years or technical education may require schools to make further economies unless new money can be found. This may, of course, reduce the teacher supply problem by creating fewer teaching posts, but if it increased the departure rate for existing teachers it could perversely make matters worse.

As the setter of policy for the school system, the DfE must take these issues into account. Whether it has done sufficiently we will hear some clues today when officials from the DfE appear in front of the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster.

 

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4 thoughts on “School funding and outcomes

  1. This is interesting. Looking at 2011 census data there does seem to be a link between parental educational outcomes and children’s outcomes (no surprise there). However, the funding doesn’t follow this link. In many areas of the country (including my own) – there are no more economies to be made except for cutting staff considerably. This will have an impact on outcomes.
    The problem is we keep saying the same thing and because no one is listening it seems that we are moaning and the inequalities continue to exist.
    We now need to apply a similar model for children of families with poor educational outcomes as we do for ESL children (many of whom come from families with high educational outcomes or at least high aspiration). I’m definitely not saying stop ESL funding and what I am saying is we need to look at why the lowest funded areas continue to have the highest number of failing schools and the worst results and why they are not improving in the same way as the schools with the highest funding.

    • Lucy,

      Thank you for your email. The subject of school funding is fraught with problems that the new National Formula largely fails to address. The new formula is based on a notion of equality that provides mostly the same share of the cake to everyone as its starting point. I subscribe to a notion that looks at outcomes and funds the required amount needed to achieve specific goals and outcomes. I have long thought that the EAL funding should be revisited. Where it is needed, it is essential, but to whom and for how long are questions worth asking. However, any change would have to be tapered.

      John

      • I’m a Chair of Gov (primary) – so not a teacher and trying to change the conversation around funding before it is too late and it is an uphill battle. I have looked at qualification levels in the general populations (2011 census data), funding and results. Only 30% of top funded LAs have secondary schools below the threshold levels as opposed to 84% of lowest funded LAs (2014/15 data. )

        I also unfortunately believe(but don’t know for sure) there is a link between the political landscape in the country and funding, which is one of the reasons why funding changes will not happen.

      • Lucy,

        Funding schools was originally a local decision with poorly funded authorities topped up by central government. Inner London schools were well funded because of the business rates from the City and the West end whereas rural counties tended to be poorly funded. One solution was funding streams for particular projects from the centre but when in the 1990s local management of schools was introduced and local authorities were told to send all the cash to schools most stopped topping up school funding. Then academies arrived and effectively all funding was directed from the centre but not equalised across the country. As a result, historical differences have persisted and the government is trying to level everyone up but without the cash to do so. As a result, most schools are in their worst funding position since the 1980s, especially primary schools facing large numbers at KS2 but falling rolls at entry levels. There are a nmuber of posts over the years on this blog. At one time Mr Gove wanted to scrap all lump sum amounts and just fund on a per pupil basis!

        A messy and complicated area with little democratic input these days, just like the NHS.

        John

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