School Funding heads for the long grass?

Efficiency saving all round are being used to camouflage the lack of significant extra cash for schools during a period of rising school rolls. The Secretary of State’s statement to parliament, made earlier this afternoon, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/justine-greening-statement-to-parliament-on-school-funding has to be read very carefully to disentangle the rhetoric from the reality.

There will be a national funding formula, but not fully until post 2019-20 when a new spending round will be in place. Until then there will be the following;

  • Increase the basic amount that every pupil will attract in 2018-19 and 2019-20;
  • For the next two years, provide for up to 3% gains a year per pupil for underfunded schools, and a 0.5% a year per pupil cash increase for every school;
  • Continue to protect funding for pupils with additional needs, as we proposed in December.

So, 0.5% will be the basic increase per pupil; will it even cover inflation? What are underfunded schools? Will the increases be enough to offset the inevitable pay increase that will be necessary at some point to stop the loss of teachers from the profession and under-recruitment of new entrants into training? Why set a minimum of £4,800 for secondary school pupils, but no minimum for primary schools? What will this mean for small rural primary schools, are they to be abandoned to their fate?

In their manifesto the Conservatives said no school would lose out as had been proposed in the national funding formula, but it is not clear if the final decision on that point is now being handed to local School Forums and whether this manifesto pledge is being honoured in terms of the primary sector other than through the 0.5% per pupil increase and the up to 3% for under-funded schools? Since there might have been an expectation of a cost of living increase anyway has the 0.5% replaced the cost of living increase? Is it 0.5% per year or across the two years? Some winner now don’t look like seeing the gains that they had expected.

However, primary schools are to receive more cash through their PE and sports premium funding. This may be good news for unemployed PE teachers in some parts of the country, but not for secondary schools that might want to have employed them as maths or science teachers.

The Secretary of State made clear that the £1.3 billion additional investment in core schools funding which she announced today will be funded in full from efficiencies and savings She said,  ‘I have identified from within my Department’s existing budget, rather than higher taxes or more debt’. By making savings and efficiencies, the Secretary of State said that she is ‘maximising the proportion of my Department’s budget which is allocated directly to frontline head teachers – who can then use their professional expertise to ensure that it is spent where it will have the greatest possible impact.’

At TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk we are happy to help by promoting the free national job board that costs schools nothing to place adverts for teachers. We will even extend it to handle support staff for a relatively small further investment.

A wise Secretary of State would have established a joint commission with the teacher associations to work on these central efficiency gains and in doing so help to neutralise the inevitable complaints from those who projects are being cut, especially if they include spending on professional development. Will, I wonder, the £10 million tender to recruit overseas teachers still go ahead and what will happen to the campaigns to encourage new entrants into teaching?

Finally, I am interested to read that one group of consultants will be retained; those to trawl over the budgets of schools in deficit.

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Hey big spender

This week the DfE released the fact that the total Schools Budget for 2013-14 is in the order of £39 billion, give or take some £200 million*. Now, since academies and other direct grants schools are funded on a school-year basis and the community and voluntary schools that receive income passported through local authorities receive their funding on a financial year basis, the figure for this year isn’t comparable to previous years.

In addition to the Schools Budget, about £10 billion will be spent by local authorities on other children’s services, and education not related directly to schools. Individual schools budgets make up some 87% of the total Schools Budget this year, with central services, and areas such as transport accounting for the remainder of the expenditure. Over the next few years that 13% spent outside schools is likely to be reduced as councils across the country seek savings from back office functions, and also rationalise transport and other services.

Once again the remaining music services are the types of discretionary services likely to come under pressure, with councils transferring their running costs entirely to schools. It would be a great tragedy if Michael Gove’s relentless pursuit of a school-led education service, coupled with the hang-over from the economic crisis, ended one of the real success stories of the post-war education system.

Nationally, the average pupil will cost the government some £4,350 this year, but that appears to range from £6,935 in Tower Hamlets to £2,134 just across the river in Bexley. Although, as that is £1,600 less than the next authority it might be down to some accounting quirk regarding academies or another part of the calculations. London authorities, with their higher staffing costs, account for sixteen of the top 20 authorities in terms of per capita Schools Budgets. Since their secondary students also benefit from free transport under the TfL budget the figure would no doubt be even higher if this element was included.

Currently SEN transport costs an average of £69 per pupil across the country, and other home to school transport £51 per pupil. Given that the latter costs are mostly in the rural authorities, the cost to those authorities is obviously much higher.

Rather than the universal benefit of a limited period ‘cash freeze’ for consumers, the Labour Leader might have designed an energy policy to help reduce these costs to local authorities, perhaps by a national fuel purchasing scheme that allowed school buses and other community transport to run on lower priced fuel.

Whether a Department at Westminster serving both schools and the other functions supporting children’s welfare makes any sense these days is a matter for debate. The spending functions logically sit alongside many other social expenditure functions of councils, and the monitoring of schooling can be subsumed within a regulatory framework that includes services such as trading standards. After all, monitoring performance is soon going to be the only real education function left for local authorities, if the government at Westminster has its way.

* https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/244055/SR35-2013.pdf