Southend High School for Boys is one of many schools that gets a “raw deal” under the current funding methodology. We welcome the long-awaited consultation.
The Department for Education (DfE) proposals are broadly in line with what we expected, and in some cases feared! Of course, it is hard to assess the practical impact of the proposals as there are no numerical details in this part of the consultation.
The biggest issue we see is the rate of change/transition timeline. A number of sector bodies have been arguing for a faster rate of change on the basis that using the minimum funding guarantee (MFG) of 1.5 per cent means it will take 10 to 15 years for funding levels to equalise.
We are encouraged to think and act like a business and while we recognise we have a 18 month planning timeline, it seems extraordinary that schools are not being credited with the intelligence to plan for the funding change in a reasonable timeframe. If it is unacceptable that schools are currently funded at such varying rates, then it is unacceptable if the transition to a fairer formula is intentionally slow.
The proposed new model includes funding elements for deprivation and prior attainment (which links closely to deprivation, although they are/should be different indicators). It is intended to retain pupil premium. The effect is that deprivation is, again, being more than double-counted.
Of course, the pressing issue here will be the weighting that is applied to these measures (which used to be locally determined and will become a national figure).
The weightings have not yet been published and will appear in phase two of the consultation. There is a real risk that unjustified levels of between-school variation will be perpetuated and the lowest-funded schools will continue to carry a disproportionate burden of the austerity programme.
Pupil premium does have a political slant in that it will remain “for the duration of this parliament”. This could be because it is being seen as a softener for some areas of the country but it does mean that when asked if we want a deprivation factor to be included, the answer has to be yes on the basis of the hint that pupil premium may not exist after the next general election.
This means we are building a funding regime that is double counting and instinctively feels twisted. If pupil premium is to remain in the long-term, the deprivation element of the formula needs pruning.
The proposed new model also includes an “area cost adjustment”. The suggested approaches are either based on current teacher employment costs (which masks the actual pressure in different localities, where low school income suppresses the wage profile) or utilising a “labour cost adjustment” derived from the local employment market.
Southend doesn’t fare well in this approach. Local wages are low. However average incomes are relatively high (due to commuting to London) and living costs are the 11th least affordable in the country. Therefore we will need to make the case for other indicators, more reflective of the cost of living, to be used for the area cost adjustment.
The DfE has embarked on the Schools Financial Health and Efficiency Drive recognising there will be as many losers as winners with the funding changes.
We have pointed out the inefficiency of Business Rates and the fact it makes a great deal of sense for the Education Funding Agency to pay the rates directly to the local authorities. It is disappointing the DfE want to continue to work in an inefficient way and not practise what they are preaching.
Another point that needs considering is the cost increases. If you are currently financially tight, have done everything you could reasonably be expected to do to be lean and efficient, and are set to gain no more than 1.5 per cent more per year, allowing for the capping, then the chances are that this will not actually cover the cost increases up to and including 2019/20.
Of course, leaving School Forum in place for another two years could further dampen the transition.
Put simply, if ministers are truly committed to ending the current funding travesty, then we would reasonably expect them to make much bolder steps.
Read more reaction to the national funding formula consultation here.