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