2022 Spring Term 2

The know zone

  • Sounding out phonics
    Tiffnie Harris delves into the highly-debated issue on the use of phonics in teaching early reading. More
  • Is the Bacc back?
    As the government carries out an inquiry into the post-16 education landscape, Kevin Gilmartin examines whether there really is an appetite for a 16-19 baccalaureate. More
  • Resource management
    Hayley Dunn takes a closer look at the DfE's new tools for resource management and procurement More
  • Lifelong ambition
    Anne Murdoch explores what the Skills Bill means for colleges, employers and learners. More
  • Post-16 Bacc
    Should the government introduce a post-16 baccalaureate that allows students to take a variety of subjects, including both academic and vocational options? Here, ASCL members have their say... More
  • Going the distance
    Headteacher Russell Clarke says ASCL Council provides an excellent platform for sharing ideas and influencing policy. Here, he shares his passion for Council, carving and fell running. More
  • Never forget?
    If the human brain is wired for learning, it also appears programmed to forget. We all know how the acquisition of knowledge can enrich a life but forgetfulness can have value too, says Chris Pyle. More
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Hayley Dunn takes a closer look at the DfE's new tools for resource management and procurement

Resource management

The DfE has several key policy lines under review, which impact on business leaders, including the transition to a Direct National Funding Formula, the anticipated Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) review and reviewing the School Business Professional Strategy. Alongside this, the DfE has invested resources towards school resource management and procurement. 

The DfE guidance and tools have been expanded to provide the risk protection arrangement (an alternative to commercial insurance) – see tinyurl.com/34bz5h8d and school resource management advisers have been deployed to support schools and trusts. 

A new tool has also been added for benchmarking (viewyourdata.education.gov.uk) and, in addition to the schools financial efficiency metric (tinyurl.com/2p8t2e33) and the schools financial benchmarking website (tinyurl.com/2p8axdjb), the DfE has added the view my financial insights (VMFI) tool (tinyurl.com/4yyev87x). 

The VMFI tool is an output from the DfE’s Better Financial Reporting Programme (BFRP), initially developed for academies, and linked to the development of a standard chart of accounts and automating data collection projects. 

Digging into how the government-funded tools have been created and the assumptions they make gives rise to potential questions about the financial information provided back to schools via the tools and how the information is used by government. How funding and resources available are deployed is a polarised debate, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach. 

Are the tools fit for purpose? 

The schools financial efficiency metric uses a three-step methodology to identify a comparator set of 49 similar schools.

  • Step 1 calculates an efficiency score, dividing progress by spending per pupil.
  • Step 2 identifies a group of 49 statistically similar schools, based on the proportion of pupils with a statement of special education needs (SEN) or an education, health and care plan (EHCP) and the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) at any point in the last six years.
  • Step 3 identifies the schools efficiency decile, grouping similar schools in to ten groups of five based on their efficiency score. 

This tool is less well known and used in isolation gives little useful information by which to benchmark performance. The schools financial benchmarking website has been in place for several years, providing benchmarking information on income, spending and staff, with data as far back as the 2016/17 financial year. 

The benefits of good quality benchmarking are undeniable, but this tool has been widely criticised for being time lagged, unintuitive and lacking the agility to provide meaningful comparison, particularly for schools with more unique characteristics or more diversity of provision. The DfE has indicated its intention to keep the website, and notwithstanding its limitations, it does provide a certain amount of transparency to the public. 

Is the VMFI tool better? 

The recently developed virtual VMFI tool appears to be a step forward, providing school-level financial performance information and analysis. 

The tool enables trusts and local authorities, with multiple schools, to view them all in one place. It provides an automated analysis of data submitted via returns, with the caveat that data is only included if submitted on time, and where individual schools have been part of the trust or local authority for the full financial year. 

Data sources include the academies accounts return and budget forecast for academies, consistent financial reporting for maintained schools, along with the January school census, workforce census, condition data collection (CDC) data, SEN data set and Get Information about Schools (GIAS) register (get-information-schools.service.gov.uk) for both academies and maintained schools. Coupled with improving automation of financial returns, the tool should make it possible to provide updates more quickly in the future. 

What are our concerns? 

The ASCL Blueprint for a Fairer Education System (Building Block 4: Resources) – see www.ascl.org.uk/blueprint – calls for sufficient funding to ensure that children and young people receive the education to which they are entitled. 

Our concerns about these initiatives are that they promote potentially unreachable targets and unattainable levels of financial performance and mask integral structural issues, such as insufficient funding or dilapidated buildings in need of replacement. 

We need to be careful of statisticians setting de minimis limits in isolation, without considering the context of each individual school. We also need to be mindful that benchmarks do not become targets that in turn become a barrier to inclusion. 

Hayley Dunn
ASCL Business Leadership Specialist