Who is the fairest of them all?

In case it hasn’t come through thus far, let me state for the record that I think there is some merit in the idea that we need a fairer funding formula for schools. The reality is that over time the actual effect any funding formula will drift from its original intention because, you know, events. The existing formula is a couple of decades old and much has changed in the meantime, both in the structure of the school system and in the national economic outlook.

Having said that, there are some things about the current attempt to change the system that I have concerns about.

Number 1

The suggestion that local authorities will be written out of the loop has a number of foreseeable consequences that could create significant difficulties. I worry that the EFA (which is where I assume the funding would be funnelled through) would cope with such an expansion. The organisation has been consistently criticised by both the schools it services and the by the National Audit Office. Though to be fair, many of the NAO criticisms are of the DfE for placing onerous burdens on the back of the EFA.

This move has knock on effects. For many small schools it is the local authority that provides the essential financial back-office support that headteachers rely on. And in recent years this support has become quite efficient (for a local authority). So either LAs will continue the service and charge the schools, or the services will cease. This creates a burden (admittedly a short term one) where schools may have to rearrange their back-office provision. The longer-term impact of this is that where such activities are brought in-house to smaller organisations there will generally be less separation of duties and greater potential for error and misappropriation. This is not to suggest that schools are incompetent or criminal by nature, it is just to cast an experienced auditors eye over the reality of life.

I am sure that there will be claims that cutting out the LAs will enable any top-slice that they took to be added back into the pot and increase the overall funding available to school. Well, that was also the story with academies, as I recall. Fool me once, shame on you…

Number 2

As a consequence of Number 1 (and other things) there will likely be a quicker move to academisation among smaller schools. Frankly, it’s the only way many will cope financially. Especially those where the fairer funds will, in fact, be lower funds. There are two things about this that concern me. Firstly when such things happen quickly they are more likely to end up with groups of schools who perhaps should not be groups of schools. This is not an insurmountable problem if sufficient support of the right kind is provided. But it needs to be provided sooner rather than later. Secondly, academisation means money for lawyers. So in the short term a fairer funding formula will lead to a considerable sum of money leaving education for no useful purpose. Again, this issue could be dealt with by the DfE providing much greater support for the process. I would expect this to happen. Though it probably won’t

Number 3

This one really concerns me. Inequality is local. Where I live there are streets where a 3 bed house is £180,000. In the other direction a few streets away there are houses where 3 bedrooms will cost you £1,800,000. I’m not convinced that a National Funding Formula (and note the change of language from “Fair Funding” to “National Funding”) can adequately cope with such nuance in the way that a local authority can. There is no doubt that there are inequalities in the current funding system. A new system will introduce its own inequalities. There is a danger of falling into the trap of thinking that an equality of funding is the same as fair funding. In the society I want to live in this is not the case.

Number 4

If one thing is certain about the process it is this. There will be losers. There are two examples being given of the level of disparity in the current system. There is the £6,300 to £4,200 per pupil gap quoted by Graham Stuart, and there is the £500 gap being quoted by the SoS. It is also stated that the intention is for the new funding formula to be operative from 2017/18, which is a fairly rapid timetable. Now, one assumes that there will be some form of transition arrangements in the first few years, but imagine you are currently in a school getting £6,200 per pupil. What do you think your funding might drop by? In a large school £35 per pupil equals a teacher. How many teachers will schools have to lose? How long a period over which will they get to plan this change? And how many of those teachers will move from Rotherham to Plymouth and how many will just leave the profession altogether?

Again, this is not an insurmountable issue if sufficient planning time is given and there is a recognition that unless this is quite a few years then the impact on the education of the children in those schools will be considerable.

My view on this is quite simple. The time to resolve issue of ‘fair’ funding is when you have funding available to do it without losers. We are told that this time is not now (though IMHO the benefit to National GDP would be greater than say spending £80bn + getting a few people to Birmingham quicker). A back of the fag packet calculation would suggest that a funding gap could be made up this way for around £2-4bn per annum. This is considered to be too much money to find.

Instead “there will be winners and losers”.

I think we can all guess how they will be distributed.

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One thought on “Who is the fairest of them all?

  1. If you are a losing school you would want a long transition arrangement. If you are a school that is gaining to give it a more equal slice of the pie then it needs that funding as soon as possible. Three years should be sufficient time to plan both ways.

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