Equal not fair: the new direction for education?

So Boris wants a ‘superb’ education for all children. His recipe for achieving this is to offer all primary and secondary schools the same cash amount per pupil of some £5,000. No mention of special education, further education or indeed higher education in that part of his speech.

As this blog has recorded in the past, post-16 and further education is seriously in need of a cash injection, probably even more than the schools sector. Although secondary schools will benefit from more cash for their Key Stage 3 & 4 pupils under Boris’s idea, this won’t help fully fund sixth forms and will leave further education colleges still drifting towards financial meltdown in some cases.

What is the future for the High Needs Block of funding and a ‘superb’ education for all our pupils with special educational needs? I guess much will depend upon how Mr Williamson, as the incoming Secretary of State for Education, interprets the words of his boss? Personally, I hope he reminds Boris that Eton doesn’t charge the same fees as many other private schools and asks whether he believes that what is right for public education should be applied to private schooling as well?

More seriously, the idea of the same cash for all is based upon a very simplistic notion of education, where equal means ‘the same’. In 2002, I wrote a paper for the Liberal Democrats espousing the ‘compensatory principle’. This is based upon funding the needs of a child to reach the outcome levels desired by the system: some children need more resources to achieve the desired outcome than others.

Such a principle recognises the need for additional funding for both specific children and particular areas within local government boundaries. The Coalition introduced the Pupil Premium to recognise this need, and the Mrs May’s government created additionally funded ‘Opportunity Areas’. What happens to these modification of £5,000 for all will be a real test of the values of this government.

Extensive research shows all children do not arrive at school with the same degree of development, whatever their innate capabilities. The system should recognise that fact and take it into account in funding. Furthermore, if the State mandates the same funding for all schools, should it allow schools in more affluent areas to top-up the State grant and once again create a funding differential?

The teacher associations have calculated that the headline £5,000 for all is relatively cheap to implement, costing only about £50 million a year according to the BBC. However, to restore funding levels to where the teacher associations would like them to be might cost close to £13 Billion rather than a few million pounds. Such a sum, even without the demands of the further education sector, is a different order of magnitude.

Sadly, for a Prime minister that likes headlines, the £5,000 is a good headline figure and seems like a lot of money: these days it isn’t. How schools are treated will reveal the true values off the new government.


Funding still not fair?

Is opposition to the current National Funding Formula for schools growing? There are those that see it as neither national, because it has so many variations, nor a formula, because it carries so many restrictions carried over from what went before. Indeed, the F40 Group of local authorities that campaigns for fairer funding has issued a recent document outlining their concerns about the present state of play.

In one sense the idea of every child having a basic unit of funding tied to the provision of their education has been the Holy Grail of many educationalists ever since the autonomy of local authorities over education funding began to be curbed around the time that local management of schools or LMS began to be introduced in the early 1990s.

At that time there were wide disparities in the funding of schooling across the country. Local business rates meant that Inner London had access to vast resources of income generated from the City of London and the West End. At the other end of the scale were former manufacturing areas and many rural areas where income was insufficient and central government had to provide funds to support an education service. These areas were also joined by many of the shire counties where education competed with social services for a limited amount of resources.

The goal of those seeking a National Funding Formula was to level up less well funded areas, so that all received the same basic level of funding as close to that of the best as possible. Of course, if it wasn’t at the level of the best then there would be losers. The first attempt at a Formula created too many losers. It is now becoming apparent that the current version also has problems associated with it.

As the F40 briefing note says;

One of the key principles set out in the early NFF consultations, supported by f40, was that pupils of similar characteristics should attract similar levels of funding wherever they are in the country (allowing for the area cost adjustment).  Therefore, NFF should be applied to all schools on a consistent basis.  However, the protections applied, such as the 0.5% funding floor, ‘lock in’ some of the historical differences for those schools which have been comparatively well funded for several decades.

Their solution:

The government must continue to develop the national formula so that it is fit for the future i.e. is fairer, more easily understood, transparent and adjustable. Transition to the new formula is sensible but locking in past inequalities is not.

The F40 Group is also seeking continued funding flexibility to support specific local issues or organisational requirements. They assert that no two schools in the country are exactly the same, but the current formula assumes all schools are almost identical.  The F40 say that are good local reasons why some schools have costs that others do not have, and an inflexible national system cannot support these schools equitably.  As a result, some local flexibility is essential in achieving a fair formula that works and stands the test of time.

Here is the nub of the argument, how to manage a national formula with a degree of local flexibility. The government’s solution for academy chains is to allow funds to be moved between schools as necessary, but that approach doesn’t help either stand-alone academies or maintained schools.

With increasing pupil numbers and an under-funded 16-19 sector, the government has limited room for movement in the short-term, even if austerity really does come to an end as a policy objective. Perhaps we might see a return to the separation of funding into two separate funding streams with pay as one funding stream and other costs funded through a different funding stream more open to local flexibility to reflect local circumstances. This might imply a return to rigid national pay scales and limits of promoted posts to control the pay stream.

What is clear is that without more thinking, the present arrangements for school funding are likely to be unfair for many pupils across the country.



International Study on school funding by OECD

The DfE has a new benchmark by which to assess the National Funding Formula for Schools. The OECD has just published a thematic review of school funding ‘The Funding of School Education: Connecting Resources and Learning’. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264276147-en

This is an ambitious report into the issues relating to funding schools across just under 20 of the economies that make up the OECD block. In one sense the issues raised here aren’t new. Funding, and the relationship between funding and the aims of an education system, has always been a matter for debate. Indeed, ever since the governments first became involved in funding education, the key questions around how and to whom have never been far from the surface of political debate. At the most basic level, this is characterised by two of the issues discussed in the OECD report. How much funding is raised locally and where that isn’t sufficient how is it topped up, and secondly, how is the success of any funding model measured and what happens when schools fall short of successful outcomes? This includes the debate about what is meant by equality and equal opportunities. Providing every learner with the same opportunity is not the same as providing them with the same funding as something as simple as the payment of a London salary weighting in England clearly demonstrated well before the notion of Pupil and Service Children Premiums were ever considered. Finally, there is the issue of the governance, where those that raise the money often don’t actually spend it on education. This involves the quality and quantity of data necessary for this task to be effective without overwhelming the system.

The OECD Review notes that as school systems have become more complex and characterised by multi-level governance, a growing set of actors including different levels of the school administration, schools themselves and private providers are involved in school funding in many OECD countries.

The Review notes that :

While on average across OECD countries, central governments continue to provide the majority of financial resources for schools, the responsibility for spending these funds is shared among an increasingly wide range of actors. In many countries, the governance of school funding is characterised by increasing fiscal decentralisation, considerable responsibility of schools over budgetary matters and growing public funding of private school providers. These developments generate new opportunities and challenges for school funding policies and need to be accompanied by adequate institutional arrangements.

The OCED authors consider that to ‘support effective school funding and avoid adverse effects on equity in changing governance contexts, funding reforms should seek to: ensure that roles and responsibilities in decentralised funding systems are well aligned; provide the necessary conditions for effective budget management at the school level; and develop adequate regulatory frameworks for the public funding of private providers.’

It is disappointing that the home nations don’t form part of the review group of nations, although reference to issues and the literature arising from the Uk are to be found throughout the document, if the reader knows where to look., including  Dolton and Marcenaro-Gutierrez 2011 article in the journal Economic Policy, “If you pay peanuts do you get monkeys?

While this Review will be a mine of information to scholars researching the issue of funding, always recognising that some decisions are context bound and that, for instance, more rural economies may have different priorities than more urban and mixed economies, where the needs of the two groups compete with each other.

It is to be hoped that work will be undertaken to consider the differing actions of the four home nations with respect to funding against the issues raised in this review: the outcomes might be very illuminating.




What do we mean by equality of opportunity?

There is a lot of vacuous talk about the advantages of grammar schools, but I have yet to hear any advantages put forward for the non-grammar schools other children would attend. The general line is that they aren’t the same as secondary moderns of the 1950s.

For those that see Education Journal, there is an excellent deconstruction of Mrs May’s speech in the latest edition. It shows how she laced non-controversial points all could support with rhetoric about what she feels grammar schools do well. For an even more devastating demolition of her policy by a leading Conservative education thinker and former adviser to Mr Gove one could do better than read Sam Freeman’s piece at http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2016/09/sam-freeman-selective-schools-destroy-choice-and-competition-why-conservatives-should-oppose-mays-plans.html it is worth noting where it first appeared.

On Tuesday, several Conservative councillors in Oxfordshire voted with the opposition parties on the county to support a motion opposed to the return of grammar schools. It will be interesting to hear whether that happens elsewhere in the country and, indeed, whether education will play a large part in the Witney by-election?

I think much of Mrs May’s approach to grammar schools is founded on a notion of equality that differs from that now accepted by many others. This was clear during the exchanges at PMQs in the House of Commons yesterday. Mrs May appears to believe we should use state resources to strive to allow everyone to achieve their best. Actually, this normally means allowing a few to achieve their best and many others to under-achieve unless you get the funding and organisation right. That’s certainly the history of selective systems.

Elsewhere the notion of equality has tended towards one where the State recognises the right of everyone to reach at least a minimum standard and that some pupils require more resources than others to achieve this goal; hence the Pupil Premium that Mrs May’s seems to support, although not perhaps as enthusiastically as her predecessor.

Many years ago Baroness Warnock discussed these different notions of education equality in a seminal article in the first edition of the Oxford Review of Education. How you allocate resources to an education system is as important as the structure of the system. A National Funding Formula probably won’t work with a grammar school system because these schools often have higher cost structures than comprehensive schools for a variety of reasons. If the grammar school policy is not quietly shelved at the end of the consultation period then I fear for under-funded schools in Oxfordshire. They are never likely to see the extra funds that they deserve.

Finally, on grammar schools, the issue of selection by house prices. I was sent the following by Chris Waterman that well known commentator on the education scene.

One of the hackneyed arguments being put forward in favour of the expansion of grammar schools is that selection by ability is fairer than selection by house price. On face value alone it’s a silly argument – it’s replacing one form of social selection with another form of social selection, and institutionalising it.

 However, it’s interesting to look at which schools command the biggest house price premium. The most recent report was published last week by Lloyds Bank. It looked at the house price premium for the top 30 state schools in England. And of course because the top 30 schools are mostly grammar schools, the schools attracting the highest house price premiums are all grammar schools. Three of the top five are Bucks grammars with Sir William Borlase among them.


 In other words, it is grammar schools that create the worst problems around house price inflation – contributing to social exclusivity in our communities. So, surely far from addressing the problem of selection by house price, more grammar schools will extend and entrench the problem?

For me, the aim is to create every school as a good school as the London Challenge strived to do, but that is not possible if we don’t recruit sufficient teachers. Perhaps the real impetus behind the move to more grammar schools isn’t to select pupils, but to select teachers.

Funding and equality

In the good old days Cabinet office guidelines recommended 13 weeks for a public consultation by a government department. The stage one consultation on the ‘Schools national funding formula’ was published on the 7th March and closes on the 17th April. This is but five weeks including Easter. The closing day is a Sunday. (There might have been an exclamation mark here, but I am trying to conform to the new DfE guidelines).

The interesting feature for me of the proposals centres on the attempt by the government to marry together two different notions of equality. The first of these is the notion that everyone should have the same funding. In essence it is the argument of the F40 Group of authorities that felt they were short-changed when the current rules were introduced. The second notion is that of equal outcomes. If every child is to achieve the maximum possible from their education some will need more resources than others. This principle has long been accepted in relation to SEN and with the Pupil Premium the issue of the need for other forms of additional support was formalised at a national rate. The Pupil Premium will remain for the lifetime of this parliament, but no guarantee has been given for after 2020. The consultation identifies three categories of additional needs.

Without fully worked examples, it is difficult to do more than comment on the building blocks of the new formula. I suspect the one that will worry schools that might be potential losers under a new formula is the area cost adjustment. The level this is set at will need to be able to compensate for areas where salaries are higher because of high cost of living and working in the area. However, if it doesn’t recognise the high cost of housing in some areas outside London, it won’t help schools in those areas attract and retain staff. This is important because, as the consultation recognises, staffing costs are the major part of any school’s budget. Ever since the introduction of Local Management of Schools in the early 1990s, the decision to fund on ‘average salaries’ rather than actual salary bills has benefitted schools with a relatively young staff profile and eaten up more of the budget of those schools with a high proportion of staff at the top of the Upper Pay Band. The new formula won’t change that. Indeed, it might see the end of scales and move towards a single point or a first year starting salary and then the same basic salary for all with additions for responsibilities and other reasons depending on what the school could afford.

The notion of support for exceptional circumstance such as split sites, sparsity and business rates, not to mention the PfI payments from the Building Schools for the Future programme, is welcome news, assuming the funding is enough to cover all current needs.

And here lies the issue. With more pupils to educate, how much more cash will there be in real terms? Personally, I would also want to see modelling of outcomes when the current pupil numbers currently going through primary schools move into the secondary sector. What will be the effects on primary schools, especially small primary schools, when secondary numbers are rising and primary numbers are static or again falling? The nature of the formula will especially affect small rural primary schools. Does a Conservative government want to design a formula that might lead to their wholesale closure or will the sparsity factor balance off against the area cost adjustment? This will, I am sure, worry some of the more rural areas of England, not least Northumberland where, according to the DfE website, Holy Island Church of England First School currently has a per pupil expenditure or more than £27,000. I am not sure whether the statutory walking distance to the nearest schools works in cases like that but it might be another factor to add to the list of exceptions that can be covered through additional funding.

This just goes to show how much work DfE officials have done on trying to create a fair formula, but how complex the issue remains until there is agreement on what a fair formula is. What it isn’t is just allocating the same amount to every pupil.


Tell it as is it – Part 2

The Public Accounts Committee has just issued its latest report entitled the ‘The Funding for Disadvantaged Pupils’.  http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmpubacc/327/32703.htm

In the summary it concludes that ‘… the Department for Education needs to be better at supporting schools to share and use best practice more consistently so that more schools use the Pupil Premium effectively. In addition, there remain inequalities in the core funding received by schools with very similar levels of disadvantage. As the impact of the Pupil Premium will take a long time to be fully realised, the Department needs to do more to demonstrate its emerging benefits in the meantime. We also urge the Department to carry out an early review of the effectiveness of the Early Years Pupil Premium.’

This seems to me to reinforce the point make in the study of the DfE by Dr Cappon, mentioned earlier this week by this blog in another post. Perhaps politicians have confused the concept of a market with the role of players within it. When I did Economics 101, or ‘O’ level as it was in the UK in those days, the first two lessons were on markets and effective demand. We were all told that we might like a sports car, but most of us would not be able to afford one. Our latent demand wasn’t the same as our effective demand for a second hand old banger as our first car. On markets, it was seen as the mechanism for determining the price of a good. Indeed, in areas such as the Stock Market, it still is. However, markets usually have winners and losers and losers react in different ways, such as by reducing supply or quitting the market.

Now the best thing to come out of the past twenty years in education is a recognition that there is more than one type of meaning to the term ‘equality’. It was a sharper focus on the recognition that spending on some pupils needs to be greater if they are to achieve a minimum standard of education that led to the Pupil Premium. I would argue that the Lib Dems were the first to articulate this concept under Phil Willis and Richard Grayson when he was at CentreForum as it then was. Indeed, Nick Clegg also brought an understanding of this notion of equality from his experience as an MEP to this debate.

The challenge, as the Public Accounts Committee and Dr Cappon make clear is, in a department of state where an idealistic notion of the market as a means of solving problems holds sway, how do you get consumers – the schools in this case – to use their resources to the end you seek: reducing the learning gap between the disadvantaged and others in society. Do you use a carrot – the equivalent of lowering prices – or a stick, send in Ofsted to create effective use of funds such as the Pupil Premium? The problem with the market model is that consumers -schools – have to want the same thing as the DfE, and that might not be their focus.

Is a ‘special offer this week – funds for disadvantaged pupils – buy here’ really the best way to eradicate the learning gap and increase social mobility? Clearly, the Public Accounts Committee don’t seem to think so. That they also think there are issues with the core funding of schools is another worry for another blog post.