£1.3bn more for school funding is not nearly enough

English schools need much more than a paltry £1.3 billion in extra funding taken from elsewhere, says Gillian Allcroft

Sorry to be churlish, but £1.3 billion more for school funding is not nearly enough. Yes, I know, there are lots of other deserving causes, but our children are our future and if we cannot provide them with a good education, we have failed them.

The extra funding is frankly a bit of a sticking plaster. It means that the Department for Education has been able to rejig its figures so that if the National Funding Formula were implemented in full (which it won’t be this side of 2020-2021) no school would lose out. It doesn’t make up for what wasn’t there in the first place.

School funding has effectively been static for eons now, but cost pressures haven’t. Aside from general inflationary pressures, schools have had to manage significant increases to national insurance and teachers’ pension contributions, both unfunded. Public sector pay restraints may have restricted general increases to teachers’ pay, but they too have been unfunded.

And, teachers have, quite rightly, still been moving through their pay ranges during that time.

School funding has effectively been static for eons now, but cost pressures haven’t

This year we have to contend with the anomalies of the apprenticeship levy, which forces some schools with a payroll far below the £3 million threshold to pay because their LA is the legal employer of staff. This is all the more irritating because a school next door of a similar size and budget won’t have to pay because its governing body is the employer.

Then there are LA budgets, or what’s left of them. It may come as a surprise to some, but just over 60 per cent of state-funded schools in England are still local authority schools. The vast majority of those are in the primary sector, and have traditionally relied more heavily on their LAs for support.

As budgets have reduced, the educational support services LAs used to provide have disappeared or are now charged-for services. Again, schools haven’t received extra funding.

But there is no cash cow for academies either. Yes the early academy converters received a financial “bonus” in the original Local Authority Central Spend Equivalent Grant but its heyday was short-lived and its replacement Education Services Grant disappeared completely for new academies from this September, with varying levels of protection for existing academies.

Much of the debate has focused on the effects of funding reform on mainstream schools and pupils. But what of our children and young people with special needs and disabilities. In theory the reform doesn’t alter how special schools are funded – they’ll still get per-place funding and top-up funding depending on individual needs. But this is vulnerable to funding restrictions elsewhere in the system – perhaps a pupil only warrants £3,000 not £5,000?

The Isos partnership research which was commissioned to inform the reform of the high-needs budget found potential variations in the level of top-up funding more than £10,000 for children with similar needs. Now that’s what you call a postcode lottery, but for our most vulnerable children.

If you have post-16 provision you’ve probably been quietly weeping into your tea for several years already. At a time of financial retrenchment we are meant to be not just reaching for the moon, but jumping over it in terms of attainment and progress.

Yes governing boards should all be looking at how effectively the money is used and asking professional staff whether there are ways to do it better.

But many schools have already been there and done that. Our students deserve the best education and opportunities to succeed, but in order to do that we need to ensure our school staff are ready and able to teach them.

School governance remains a voluntary role and the vast majority of those volunteers signed up in order to give something back – not make redundancies and cut the curriculum offer. Governors and trustees tend to be a resilient lot, and boy do we need that resilience right now.

Gillian Allcroft is deputy CEO of the National Governance Association

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  1. Alistair Thomas

    Gillian is right about the £1.3B being paltry. With education funding being virtually flat per pupil since 2010-11, whilst inflationary pressures have seen real costs rise even in the most conservative estimates by 8%, this money merely represents less of a cut. For a low-funded LA like Worcs, we see an almost 4% “rise” in funding with our paltry £11M share of the £1.3B – that’s still a cut of 4%.

    Of course the use of absolute numbers like £1.3B is a form of dishonesty when real funding is expressed in terms of funds per pupil, and large part of the extra money will go to keep funding flat (or declining less rapidly) for a growing number of pupils in the school system. The Government’s version of transparency is to bury us with so many irrelevant or even misleading views of the funding data in the hope we will not realise there real intent or worse, politicians inability to do anything real when the country and its people are so heavily in debt.

    She’s right too that a national funding formula should have been an opportunity to rationalise the whole of education funding to support a unified vision for education from cradle to 19. As she says, Post-16 hasn’t been looked at, and whilst special school funding was tweaked, the reall challenge of producing a national formula for high needs top-ups was left to 151 LAs to reinvent the wheel, producing the postcode lottery she referred to.

    But the biggest act of vandalism in recent times has been the destruction of education services. Again, NFF should have provided an opportunity to codify services funded by the ESG into a coherent set of services to support 0-19 education, not just schools. With common services in every county, further benefits and savings could be realised by regional organisation.

    All of these opportunities have been squandered. There is no service funding for School Improvement, Safeguarding and emerging issues like mental health. As it was, ESG funds had already been given to Academies as a bribe to convert, and finally the bulk of the funding is simply removed leaving only a core of statutory duties like admissions in a new “Schools-only” block.

    It used to be that “fairness” was part of the title – we were promised a nation fair funding formula (NFFF). At the least the pretence of fairness has been dropped in NFF except for in the SoS’s speeches, where it still features in the rhetoric. To be fair, previous Ministers never appeared to understand the fairness argument, so it’s not so surprising that the current SoS doesn’t appear to realise that it’s been dropped, overtaken or even swamped by a general lack of funding crisis so adequately highlighted by Gillian.