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.

 

 

Advertisements

The government probably won’t do much about education

Such is the position the government finds itself in that education was relegated to little more than a paragraph in today’s Queen’s Speech. As might be expected, the government, through Her Majesty, said;

My Government will continue to work to ensure that every child has the opportunity to attend a good school and that all schools are fairly funded. My Ministers will work to ensure people have the skills they need for the high-skilled, high-wage jobs of the future, including through a major reform of technical education.”

In the briefing there is little more by way of amplification. Does a good school mean a selective school where pupils already attend such schools and pupil numbers are on the increase or does it mean no expansion of selective schools? On funding, does it mean that the manifesto amplification that no school will lose money under the new funding formula holds good or will the formula be implemented as consulted upon?

Just saying, “we will deliver on our manifesto commitment to make funding fairer” isn’t really helpful.

The primary schools that sent letters home to parents today would certainly like to know where they stand. As would employees that can see the need for pay rises above 1% in the very near future.

It was interesting that the average cash balance for maintained schools in Oxfordshire dropped from £77,895 in March 2016 to £75,419 in March 2017. I don’t have data for academies and there are too few secondary schools to make the figures at all meaningful. I suspect that this is the first decline in average balances for quite a long time and even so hides the loss of a number of posts, with more to go this September.

The briefing note also explains that “we will continue to convert failing maintained schools into academies so that they can benefit from the support of a strong sponsor, and we are focused on building capacity across the system to enable this, including through growing new multi academy trusts.” In Oxfordshire, we still have a primary school that has waited for more than a year for a sponsor after having been inadequate, so here is some way to go with this promise.

The longest section is reserved for technical education. This oft overlooked sector does need serious attention and there is an interesting note about the introduction of Institute of Technology. Where will they fit in the landscape of UTCs, studio Schools and FE colleges?

Of course, not all developments in education will need legislation. My aim to ensure all looked after children can receive a school place within two weeks of being taken into care should be possible within existing legislation. I already have interest from Conservative and Lib Dem MPs in Oxfordshire and I hope they will be joined by the county’s Labour MP as this isn’t a party political issue, but rather a case of rectifying an unintended wrong created with the development of academies and free schools.

From TeachVac’s http://www.teachvac.co.uk point of view, the lack of any mention of a vacancy portal was interesting. As a way of saving schools money it might have featured in the paragraph on saving money and government tools.

Of course, if the vote next week were to be lost, who knows what will happen then?