Manifesto 2024

Six policies to better link school funding with improvement

Funding schools properly isn’t all about the amount of money on offer; there’s plenty a government could do to make the process more efficient

Funding schools properly isn’t all about the amount of money on offer; there’s plenty a government could do to make the process more efficient

21 Jun 2024, 5:00

From the perspective of a school business professional, here are the key policies any new government will need to focus on if we are to see desired improvement in schools over the next parliament.

Fix SEND funding

I approach this from the point of view of a mainstream school, but the crisis in SEND funding is manifest in the specialist sector too. 600,000 children and young people now have an education, health and care plan (EHCP), a 26 per cent year-on-year increase that has left many local authorities with large deficits in their SEND accounts. This gap is only increasing.

There needs to be research into why more young people need specialist provision and funding for appropriate provision. LAs simply do not have appropriate provision and children with significant need are being inappropriately (and expensively) placed.

Meanwhile, younger pupils are not being assessed with sufficient urgency. Earlier intervention and support could mean lower costs in the future.

Find ways to fund capital works

The school estate is in a parlous state. Building Schools for the Future (BSF) may have had its problems and devolved formula capital may not have been targeted appropriately, but taking it away without an alternative in place was reckless at best.

For schools in the rebuilding programme, work has been slow as funds have been diverted to new provision for basic need and free schools.

Investing in capital works could boost economic growth, but an ambitious government ought to look at other ways to deliver programmes. For example, responsible bodies could be allowed to borrow and there should be more focus on the sale of surplus land for housing or other developments.

Go back to three-year funding settlements

This is a no-brainer. We have been living year to year for far too long, even after comprehensive spending reviews. Longer-term budgeting is really difficult; in fact, I have moved to continuous monitoring and forecasting to allow agility with directing resources.

This ask is simple. Pick a funding level and guarantee that wage and other inflation will be covered. As funding in real terms is no better than it was in 2010, this would merely be a holding position, but at least it would be clear. (And if a new government can find more, that would be excellent.)

Minimise the use of add-on grants

Under the last Labour government, I really disliked the slew of Standards Fund Grants. These were being phased out and rolled in with core funding. The coalition government committed to do the same – until Pupil Premium funding came along. Since then there has been a proliferation of grants, each with its own rules.

Schools should be funded appropriately through a national formula, and expectations for delivery (e.g. closing the disadvantage gap, delivering free school meals etc.) should be clear. This can be monitored or checked through existing monitoring. Together with three-year settlements, schools would be well placed to use their funding to make longer-term decisions.

Consider the wider education workforce

It’s not just teachers; recruitment and retention is a challenge across the wider education workforce. Pay and conditions are less clearly defined, and there is an increasing need for teaching assistants to support the growing numbers of pupils with EHCPs.

Meanwhile, other employers have caught up with the notion of flexible working and those who traditionally wanted term-time work can find better paid and flexible roles elsewhere.

A framework for pay and career development to level 6 qualifications would be beneficial, especially alongside teacher apprenticeships.

I have been involved with some good work recently on competencies/qualifications for SBLs and site/estates work. This should continue to help schools identify the skills needed in the non-teaching roles.

No gimmicks

Short-term initiatives frequently take attention away from the basics. Schools are diverted by the latest initiative, and funding and resources go into it for a short time.

Focusing on schools’ core purpose, with clear expectations on outcomes and stable funding should drive school improvement.

This article is part of a series of sector-led policies in the run-up to the next general election. Read all the others here

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