More cash likely; but please don’t forget the FE sector

The House of Commons Education Select Committee has today published the report of their inquiry into funding in schools and further education.

It is worth reporting their key proposals in full in the light of the excellence of the Report.

  • urgently address underfunding in further education by increasing the base rate from £4,000 to at least £4,760 (amounting to around £970 million per year), rising in line with inflation;
  • increase school funding by raising the age-weighted pupil unit value;
  • increase high needs funding for special educational needs and disabilities to address a projected deficit of at least £1.2 billion, and ensure any funding uplift takes proper account of the costs of providing Education, Health and Care plans up to the age of 25;
  • implement the full roll-out of the National Funding Formula as soon as feasible; make the various funding formulae more forward-looking and less reliant on historical factors; and investigate how best to account for the individual circumstances of outliers;
  • develop an official statistics publication for school and college funding to provide greater clarity on the data and trends;
  • grant Ofsted the powers to conduct inspections at MAT level, and require MATs to publish more detailed data on their financing structures;
  • ensure all eligible students attract Pupil Premium and overcome existing barriers to automatic enrolment as a matter of priority;
  • secure from the Treasury the full amount of estimated Pupil Premium money that has not been claimed because students did not register for free school meals, and allocate this money to disadvantaged children;
  • extend Pupil Premium to provide for 16–19 year olds; and
  • set out the timetable for providing apprenticeship transport subsidies, as per the Government’s manifesto commitments.

It is good that further education tops the list, even though it is school funding that has made the headlines. The Committee concluded that

… total school spending per pupil fell by 8% in real terms between 2009–10 and 2017–18. Per pupil funding for 2019–20 is expected to be similar to 2011–12 levels. Teachers, unions and parents have described to us in detail the scale of the impact this has had on children and young people, and on those working in the education sector.

Further education has been hit the hardest. Participation in full time further education has more than doubled since the 1980s, yet post-16 budgets have seen the most significant pressures of all education stages. Per student funding fell by 16% in real terms between 2010–11 and 2018–19 – twice as much as the 8% school funding fall over a similar period. This funding gap is the result of policy choices that now need to be addressed urgently. The social justice implications of the squeeze on further education colleges are particularly troubling, given the high proportion of disadvantaged students in these institutions.

It is a shame that these two paragraphs were not reversed in order, to ensure that FE funding issues were fully recognised. This is not to belittle the crisis in school funding, but to emphasise that funding in FE, and for the 16-8 age group that affects both sectors is in a state of real crisis.

The idea from the Committee for a ten year plan for funding, while headline grabbing, is unlikely to find favour with The Treasury, and would seem to be unrealistic in the context of a government that cannot even manage a three year financial settlement this year.

Finally, it is interesting that this report appeared on the same day that ministers appear to have accepted the evidence of a need to increase public sector workers’ pay, at least where they are review bodies. Noise in the media that schools may also receive extra funding also suggests a degree of realism now inhabit Sanctuary Buildings but, please ministers, don’t forget the FE sector: their needs should be first in the queue for additional funds.



Finance comes centre stage

Up until 2017, education, and specifically the schools sector, has been a relatively easy ride for the government on the back of some historic funding levels that originated during the last Labour government and were largely protected under the coalition. Is 2017 the year when all this is set to change? Will parents start noticing the arrival of austerity in the nation’s schools or will they be persuaded that the new funding formula is actually providing additional funding for schools, especially in the more rural tory heartlands?

The Rural Services Network clearly subscribes to the latter view with a headline in their latest bulletin, Government plans will see small rural schools protected by a ‘sparsity’ funding factor’. On the other hand, the NUT/ATL collaboration of teacher associations thinks differently according to their press release that combines the new funding formula with the recent National Audit Office publication to come to the conclusion that ‘school funding cuts [are] worse than predicted. JAMs [Just about Managing] hit hardest as school budgets plummet’. Clearly, this group remain a key target for those concerned with policy-makers.

The NUT/ATL press notice cites the following as average cuts for different groups.

Primary pupils

Cut for every pupil between 2015/16 and 2019/20

Schools with the least number of JAMs: £297 a year

Schools with the most number of JAMs: £447 a year

Secondary pupils

Cut for every pupil between 2015/16 and 2019/20

Schools with the least JAMs: £489 a year

Schools with the most JAMs: £658 a year

JAMs are calculated by NUT/ATL in the following manner: Our metric for JAMs at a school is the number of pupils who are currently not receiving free school meals but have done at some point in the last six years. We then put the schools in 10 groups based on the percentage of JAMs on the school register, and found funding averages for each group.

Now this assumes that those that come off the free school meals register move into work at the JAM level. But if they found work six years ago they might now be earning more. However, the analysis does seem to reflect that some schools are worse off than others.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, cutbacks of this magnitude are likely to affect staffing levels in schools. Whether schools will concentrate on keeping teachers and reviewing staffing levels for non-teaching staff will be a factor TeachVac will be monitoring during 2017. The number of entry level leadership posts may also come under scrutiny if schools are trying to save money. Other areas of the budget likely to be affected are, repairs and maintenance and spending on professional development. MATs may well want to ask  whether a better deal is possible on professional fees and staff in schools may query whether their executive head should earn more that the local Director of Children’s services?

Finally, for schools looking for saving, TeachVac remains the free recruitment site that costs schools, teachers and trainees nothing to use; visit to try it out in 201.




‘£56k’s being spent to give children a sandwich’

The headline in today’s Guardian above an almost universally negative article about the Free School Meals initiative is indicative of the feelings of many educationalists about the policy: frustration at the funding, unhappiness at a lack of consultation, and too often an apparent unwillingness to look beyond the obvious tried and tested solution.

Firstly the money issue. Schools in Oxfordshire charge £2.00 at present for a meal, but will receive £2.30 per meal taken from September, so there should be a greater contribution towards serving costs than at present. As to a small chain of academies having to employ a catering supervisor, as mentioned in the Guardian article, this really demonstrates the dis-economies of scale of small academy chains. In 1974, the debate about local government re-organisation centred on whether an authority with 250,000 citizens was large enough to manage a school system. In the market-based world of the past quarter century this sort of debate about size and efficiency has been thrown out along with the bath water. No doubt the failure of an academy chain today, the first such failure, will be seen as partly due to economic rather than educational reasons, especially as it had no geographical integrity to the group of schools it oversaw. Perhaps this might re-open the debate about size and effectiveness of schooling.

Finally, on the money issue, many local primary schools once again under spent their budgets in 2013-14 despite locally submitting budgets showing that they would draw down several million pounds of reserves. It is in my view entirely appropriate to use some of this cash to introduce the free school meals policy.

Where there has been a failure is probably over the discussions between politicians and teachers’ leaders, especially the leaders of the heads associations and the governors. Confrontational politics makes for interesting times, but can inhibit the smooth operation of government. I don’t advocate a return to the days when a small cabal sat around a table and decided everything, but under the present approach a policy that needed to win the schools’ hearts and minds didn’t even attempt to do so; sadly, the leaders of my Party don’t seem to have fully understood that basic tenant of leadership.

The policy of free meals does have real benefits, they may not all be directly educational, but with the growth of zero hours contracts they will ensure no child loses out on lunch because of the form filling required of parents; and mothers, since it is they that usually either find the money or buy the packed lunch in many households, will see an extra £400 or so in their purses from September onwards.

I would like to see more of the ‘can do’, but after six years of economic hardship I suppose the present attitude is only to be expected. And to the head juggling building work, child protection issues, teaching  and learning, and the introduction of free school meals: that’s the reality of leadership.