Here’s a suggestion for the DfE to consider. Not a ranty “if only you would cancel every project I don’t agree with and plough all the money into schools” type suggestion. No, this is a serious one. A modest and affordable one.
We all want to see more kids in great schools. I think everyone can sign up to that. Ideally the way we would make this happen is to make sure all schools are great. That, however, is a medium to long-term plan. Not going to happen overnight.
So here’s a quick win.
There are many great academies who would be in a position to expand numbers without a massive capital input. At the moment, if a great school increases its PAN it doesn’t see the financial benefit until the following year. The additional funding will only be provided straight away to the school if the increase is in response to basic need.
Here’s the suggestion. For a limited period, say for two to three years, where a school increases PAN and fills the spaces the GAG should be adjusted in year. This would obviously be limited to schools with a Good or better Ofsted rating.
As with any great suggestion there are negatives. This could cause some difficulties for schools which are not in a position to expand and ways to mitigate this would have to be considered.
But set against this I see that the suggestion has a number of benefits.
Firstly, the looming increase in student numbers is going to require the system to be a bit more nimble to respond to changes. This would remove one of the school level barriers to this.
Secondly, for many schools this will help alleviate budget issues over the coming years and the more schools DfE solves this problem for the better it is going to be.
And thirdly, as I suggested at the outset, this would enable more students to go to great schools.
The cost would obviously depend on how many schools did this. For every student we can assume a cost of around £4,000. If 5,000 schools did this and increased their PAN by 30 students the cost would be around £600m. But bear in mind that because of the increasing student numbers, and the likelihood that some of the students would have gone to other schools this would be a cost that was being brought forward or shifted from other areas.
If the DfE is truly committed to the idea that all children deserve to attend a great school then this suggestion is one way they can help move the day that happens forward.
I commend this suggestion to the house.