Funding dilemma

There is an interesting story on the BBC web site today about a school with 300 holes in its roof. Now this is not a crumbling Victorian pile that ought to be knocked, down but a modern building recently re-built – with shiny design features and a landscaped setting. Unfortunately there appears to be a substantial issue with the roof.

Under the regime initiated by Labour and continued by the Coalition and the recent Conservative governments, education budgets have been devolved to schools and increasingly taken away from democratically elected local authorities. The professional association that represents most secondary head teachers, the ASCL, has supported school-led financing for ever and a day.

The Common Funding Formula now being introduced is a direct result of this line of thinking. I well recall when head teachers couldn’t even authorise the change of a light bulb without an order number from their local authority and that was obviously as crazy in education as it has been elsewhere in the public sector where I have encountered such rigid rules controlling expenditure. There has to be a degree of trust of those in authority at all levels. Heads know this when allowing heads of department latitude in how the spend money on their subject or age group.

The problem comes, as with the school in the BBC story, when there are special needs in terms of problems facing a school. I wrote about this issue in terms of UTCs with extra equipment needs because they specialised in high cost areas such as engineering or manufacturing. A common formula doesn’t take this aspect into account.

The stark dilemma is either a common formula that hurts those on the extreme of spending demands or a formula plus add-ons decided by someone either nationally or locally. The government has solved the dilemma in Multi-Academy Chains by suggesting, in Lord Agnew’s recent letter, a return to the status quo ante whereby money can be vired between schools at the behest of the MAT governing group.

So, the solution for this school may be to join a MAT rather than remain as a single academy or as in this case a Voluntary Aided school that presumably had to pay for part of the rebuilding cost?. The problem for these schools is that no self-respecting MAT would want a school with such horrendous building problems that affects their budget. This can leave such schools in limbo until someone somewhere finds the cash to solve the problem.

More than century ago, Sidney Webb considered the issue of school funding in a chapter in one of his books. He discussed the issue of a non-specific grant versus the totally hypothecated funding stream of the time: his preference was for the former rather than the latter.

This debate comes on top of the wider debate about the funding of schools and the need for more cash. It is disingenuous of anyone to try and mix up the two problems. The former will remain even if there is more cash overall, unless the system of distribution is altered.

Of course the system can also make economics, as I have demonstrated by backing TeachVac, the free vacancy web site for schools and teachers. So far TeachVac seems to be doing much better than the DfE site in the North East, but that’s a story for another day.


6 thoughts on “Funding dilemma

  1. The King’s CofE School is Voluntary Aided. That means around 10% of any capital expenditure must be met by the Governing Body. Funding for VA schools is ‘delegated’. ‘The areas for which funding is delegated will include structural repairs & maintenance (this can include even large scale repairs & maintenance), non-structural repairs & cleaning…’ (See ‘Managing Health and Safety: NUT Briefing).
    Joining a MAT (even if one could be found to accept a school with structural problems estimated to cost £5m to repair) wouldn’t automatically mean the roof would be repaired (think Bright Tribe and its treatment of crumbling Whitehaven Academy).
    The DfE could foot the bill in full as a sweetener to takeover by a MAT (as it has done with rebrokerage although capital costs are omitted from published academy transfer costs). If this happens, it would be a case of the taxpayer footing the bill for shoddy work done by a builder which has now gone to the wall (Carillion).

    • Janet,

      Thanks for pointing out is is a VA school and not an academy. I should have checked before I wrote the piece and the building apparently open in 2016, so it isn’t a BSF school either.

      I have updated the post to reflect these facts.

      Best wishes


  2. Hi John

    Refurbishment of The King’s had begun under BSF before Gove cancelled BSF so it was unaffected by withdrawal of funding.
    In 2013, Wolverhampton Council announced that more schools under BSF had been completed. The new buildings ‘were officially “handed over” by the Local Education Partnership which the Council operates in partnership with Carillion to the Authority on behalf of the schools’, the Council announced.
    Wolverhampton’s LEP was named ‘Inspire’. The website is now ‘inactive’ but a cached version shows the project with Carillion was worth £270m+.

    • Janet,

      Many thanks for the extra information. If it was begun under BSF why did it take until 2016 to be completed and who designed a building with a completely flat roof that looks like a throwback to the failed CLASP buildings of the 1960s? I thought we had learnt that lesson decades ago.


      • I think refurbishment/rebuilding of The King’s was completed by 2013 when Tettenhall Wood School, a school specialising in teaching autistic pupils moved onto The King’s site in ‘stunning new’ facilities.
        The flat roof design suggests that part of The King’s was refurbished rather than rebuilt in a completely building but I haven’t yet found evidence of that.

      • Janet,

        Clearly a complicated matter, but the fundamental dilemma remains. how do you devise a formula fair to all but capable of dealing with exceptional cases that isn’t then exploited.

        I recall in the 1970s and 1980s books such as ‘depriving the deprived’ and Tony Travers work while at NELP on finding across all schools in Newham. There is certainly less disparity between schools and areas than in the 1970s but I am not sure we are achieving the aim of funding for equality of achievement that allows for social mobility.


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