Roll-out of 'hard' national funding formula delayed ... again

The roll-out of a “hard” national funding formula has been delayed for at least another year – meaning schools aren’t guaranteed to get the full increases promised by government.

The Department for Education has today announced per-pupil funding details for the 2021-22 year, with a four per cent increase in total school funding.

The government had promised to move across to a “hard” national funding formula – where cash goes straight from government to schools – in September next year.

However the transition has been delayed again, meaning the cash for 2021-22 will continue to be allocated to councils first. Local authorities can then set their own local formula – in agreement with school forums made up of headteachers – to distribute the cash.

Further details on the national funding formula, in a report published this morning, state local authorities’ “flexibility” over distributing school funding will continue because of the “need to focus efforts on meeting the challenges of COVID-19”.

It adds: “The government will shortly put forward proposals to move to a ‘hard’ NFF in future, which will determine schools’ budgets directly, rather than through local formulae set independently by each local authority.

“This will level up the school funding system so that all schools across the country are funded on a comparable basis. We will consult wider with local authorities, schools and others to make this transition carefully.”

Since the national funding formula was introduced, it has been operating on a “soft” formula – meaning councils still have the power to allocate funding based on their own priorities.

While two-thirds have moved aspects of their funding formulae towards the NFF blocks, just 64 councils (42 per cent) are “mirroring the national formulae almost exactly”.

Three in ten councils also did not match the funding floor protections promised in the national funding formula this year.

However, the minimum per-pupil funding levels promised by the government will remain mandatory for next year.

Julia Harnden, a funding specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, told Schools Week last year that “while there is flexibility for local authorities, schools aren’t guaranteed to get their full gains”.

For instance, from next year, the government will roll funding for additional teachers’ pay and pension costs, currently paid through grants, into the per-pupil funding.

It means schools will receive an additional £180 and £265 per pupil respectively to cover these costs, on top of the minimum per-pupil funding levels of £5,150 at secondary and £4,000 at primary.

While there is flexibility for local authorities, schools aren’t guaranteed to get their full gains

However, as the “hard” formula has been delayed, the government could only say it was its “expectation that, as far as possible, individual schools’ additional funding from the previous pay and pension grants should be passed on to them by local authorities in 2021-22”.

The NFF report added: “We will provide clear guidance for local authorities on how the calculations have been made, allowing them to mirror the calculations in the local formulae.”

Councils will also still be able to transfer up to 0.5 per cent of their schools block funding to other areas of the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG), with schools forum approval.

The government has also announced funding for small and remote schools will rise by over 60 per cent.

The maximum sparsity value will increase from £26,000 to £45,000 for primary schools, and from £67,600 to £70,000 for secondary schools.

This will increase the amount that the formula allocates to remote schools through the sparsity factor to £42 million – an increase of over 60% in comparison to 2020-21

It’s not yet clear if this will be mandatory, or whether councils will continue to have discretion to allocate it as they see fit.

The NFF report states the move is the “first step to expanding and improving the support the NFF provides for small and remote schools, with further changes planned from 2022-23. We will consult publicly on these changes in due course.”

The hard funding formula was originally expected to be rolled-out this September.