As the Funding Crisis Deepens

As the funding crisis deepens for schools across the country we have submitted written evidence to one of the Education Select Committee’s inquiries on funding.  We will be meeting with members of the committee on the 5th June to press this among other issues.  We will hopefully also be called to give oral evidence as well.

The post is understandably long as the issues are deep and complex; a downloadable copy of our submission is at the end of the blog.  We hope our voice will add to those of others also pressing for sufficient funding for education.

What the Department for Education’s priorities should be for the next Spending Review period as they relate to schools and colleges

The Department for Education’s overriding priority must be the retention and recruitment of high quality teachers and their on-going professional development.  This allied with the provision of sufficient pupil places for all children in a good local school is crucial to stabilising the education system.  These two priorities must once again be placed within the remit of the Secretary of State for Education who must be held accountable for their delivery.

This will only be achieved by a fundamental rethink of the current accountability system and reduction of unnecessary and unproductive teacher workload.  The current pernicious and bloated accountability system is having a substantial detrimental effect on those schools facing the greatest challenges; this does not serve disadvantaged pupils well due to the difficulties recruiting and retaining more experienced teachers and school leaders.

The politics of Education, over the past twenty five years, has believed that the marketisation of schools – choice, diversity and competition – would improve all schools.  Throughout this time period, the Education System has remained good overall but there is too much variability and a lack of equity with respect to pupil outcomes particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.  The system is stuck and looking increasingly fragile.  This market approach has realistically served its time; a new direction for school improvement is needed in order that public money is spent wisely on ensuring a place in a local good school for every child.

The focus during the period of the next spending review and beyond must be on continuous school improvement with a robust theory of change developed and effectively implemented.  This will need a different level and type of political leadership; one in which the profession is respected and trusted evidenced through a subsidiarity of decision making.  The profession must ensure it becomes increasingly evidence informed in its approach and accept individual and collective responsibility for high quality pupil outcomes.

Whether the spending review cycle is the best mechanism for determining overall expenditure on schools and colleges, and what that level should be

Whilst the spending review cycle is a reasonable approach, at a government level, to organise public finances, it fails to provide a sufficiently long term approach to development of a World Class Education System.  There is a balance to be struck between Parliamentary and spending review cycles and the setting out much longer term revenue raising and public spending plans.

Our preference would be for education spending to be fixed for a longer term with the Government of the day able to add additional funds for specific projects/items but not to be able to reduce it.  For example, if an assumption concerning teachers’ and NJC staff pay rises has been used within the spending review cycle but is later consider insufficient to retain and recruit the quality of staff needed; an additional amount should be added to schools’ budgets to cover the additional salary and on-costs.  The current lack of funding for pay increases is leaving schools unable to afford them with a detrimental effect on teachers and consequently pupils.

Despite an overall budget being set for education during spending reviews, there is still significant volatility at an individual school budget level caused by ministers’ decisions.  For example, the decision to remove the Education Support Grant (ESG) led to a significant and largely unforeseen reduction in academies budgets and substantially less support and assistance from local authorities to maintained schools.  Similarly, the imposition of the Apprenticeship Levy at a time when school core budgets are under considerable pressure is very unhelpful.

The Education Support Grant was diverted into the Strategic School Improvement Fund (SSIF) and the Teaching & Leadership Innovation Fund (TLIF).  These untried school improvement strategies, implemented at a time of a crisis in core school budgets, were ill conceived, badly implemented and poorly timed.

We’d propose, with immediate effect that the SSIF & TLIF bidding rounds and awarding of funding cease and the funding is redirected to core budgets.  A priority must be given to schools whose budgets are below the nominal National Funding Formula (NFF) allocation in 2018/19 academic year and similarly in 2019/2020.  Likewise with the Apprenticeship Levy.

There are too many examples of the Department for Education or bodies awarded education funding being unable to give assurances that funding has been spent for the purpose it was awarded; evidence the impact of various initiatives or simply not achieving anything like the outcomes expected.  The Education Select Committee and National Audit Office have identified many occasions where the Department for Education has failed to use taxpayers’ money wisely.  It is not simply the amount of money given to the education budget but how it is spent and what it is spent on.  Too often large school national projects are rolled out by the Department for Education without the necessary small scale piloting and review.

The comprehensive funding review doesn’t address key issues linked to support for children with additional needs; funding is inconsistent with the level of funding vastly different for children, with similar needs, from area to area.  Fluctuations in top-up funding is therefore not needs driven at all. Pupils’ funding can vary as much as £10,000 per child, per year, in special schools, due to the location of the school.  Funding of special schools and PRUs is often inexplicable in terms of a child’s need.

High numbers of children with SEND are placed in schools in the independent sector. This is mainly due to a lack of places in state funded special schools draining millions of pounds from local High Needs Block funding to place children in high-cost, independent schools for children whose needs could be met locally in the state sector.  This therefore reduces the amount of money available for funding top-up in special schools, PRUs and mainstream. The knock-on effect of this is inadequate funding and reduced outcomes or significant overspend of the high needs budget which has a knock on effect for other parts of the education budget. This creates an unsustainable cycle of excessive cost places and no way of local authorities investing in increased state provision.  Funding for transport is therefore also excessive as children are educated long distances from their own communities.

Funding for SEND pupils in mainstream can, and does, put a disproportionate pressure on schools’ budget as a schools’ SEND cohort increases.  The notional funding strand of £6000 per child is un-workable and unrealistic.  Schools with elevated levels of SEND children struggle to fund the necessary training required to meet the needs of the pupils.  Inclusive schools therefore feel the pressure of accountability more and are at risk of being exposed as underperforming through measures linked to performance tables, Progress 8 and ultimately Ofsted judgements. Schools, instead of celebrating their inclusivity and encouraging SEND children into their school are being pressured, financially and through accountability, to reduce and/or discourage SEND children on their roll.

With respect to capital funding the choice, diversity, competition mantra has led to poor procurement and a lack of holistic planning for school places.  It is particularly frustrating to witness capital funding directed at Grammar schools; this will worsen social mobility and justice at a time when education needs to improve this area of its work.  Equally the hugely expensive free school procurement of sites and school buildings is not an efficient use of public funds.

What the overwhelming number of parents want is simply a place in a good local school; the type of school or structure of the governance arrangement is understandably and quite rightly of limited interest.  Clearly, this is also dependent on sufficient high quality teacher, with the required specialism, to staff these schools and educate the children.  Ensuring we have sufficient school places is a national issue that needs more detailed planning at a regional level.

More efficient procurement of additional school places would release funds for greater capital works in existing schools.  The substantial cut in capital funding, going directly to schools or available to schools, will lead to significantly increased costs in the years ahead; the lack of conditions work going on in our schools is becoming with a conducive working environments for pupils and staff.

Political spin about the education budget never being higher without explaining this is due to the much higher number of pupils in our schools; erroneous claims about real term increases when funding is cash flat but there have been substantial increases in costs associated with pension and national insurance directed and know by ministers and a failure to recognise the very real pressure many school budgets are under due to removal of funding elements like ESG leads to a very real sense of angst amongst school leaders.  Better procurement or reducing colour photocopying simply won’t address the funding crisis faced by schools; pupils’ education is being affected.

The effectiveness of targeted funding such as the pupil premium, and its relationship to core education funding

The group continues to support the concept of Pupil Premium funding; directing a per disadvantaged pupil amount to schools.  It is concerned, however, that instead of education being a force for social mobility and social justice educational inequality increases overall during a child’s time at school.

The Pupil Premium Fund needs to be seen as part of a wider multi-departmental approach to improving equity in outcomes as proposed in the HTRT Alternative Green Paper 2016 (copies are available from our website).

Schools and pupils from disadvantaged families are being adversely affected by the reduction in support available around social services and mental health provision.  It is also highly likely that schools facing substantial real term cuts in core budget will be using this targeted fund for general provision.  This is likely to be more so in schools which have suffered from historic long term under funding compared to many schools in London.

The practical implementation of the national funding formula

The NFF is a means of distributing the available education budget to schools.  It is a secondary issue to the need for sufficient school funding; this has been and remains the substantive issue for the Headteachers’ Roundtable.

In a period where the Government has determined to pursue an austerity agenda it would seem reasonable to send the maximum amount of funding directly to schools.  Unfortunately, it seems there is an endless conveyor belt of low impact and ineffective strategies that are funded instead: Troop to Teachers scheme; funding excessively high tax free bursaries for people to train with no requirement to enter the class room; the costs associated with failing or failed UTCs/free schools or securing of potential sites for free schools; Character Education and Pupil Premium Awards when schools are lacking core funding.

The “soft” NFF during the 2018/19 and 2019/20 financial years will leave too many schools below the nominal NFF allocation during this time period and others facing a cliff edge funding fall in 2020 hence the above proposal relating to SSIF & TLIF redistribution.

Ed Select Committee Funding proposals – Final

Prepared by Stephen Tierney in consultation with and on behalf of the Headteachers’ Roundtable

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