February 2013

The know zone

  • Warning signs
    The case of a BNP councillor who took his claim against unfair dismissal to the European Court of Human Rights is a warning to schools and colleges, says Richard Bird. More
  • Toil and trouble
    Changes to local and national funding formulae could be a recipe for a whole cauldron of bother, says Sam Ellis. More
  • Lead vocals
    Quotes from Judy Garland, Kongzi, Ezra Pound, Felix Cohen and Thomas Fuller More
  • Home ground
    After 20 years away, Mark Stanyer returned to the school where he began his teaching career and is now principal of Ormiston Sir Stanley Matthews Academy in Stoke-on-Trent. More
  • Nourishing minds
    The Food for Life Partnership (FFLP) is revolutionising school meals by reconnecting young people with farms and inspiring them to grow food and cook. More
  • Keeping pedagogy on track
    Despite being in the midst of one of the most challenging periods in education Brian Lightman explains why he believes there are strong grounds for optimism in 2013. More
  • Adding value
    In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor announced two changes that will hit high earners, people seeking to boost their pension provision, and public sector workers who benefit from generous employer contributions. More
  • Quantitative easing
    Do you believe changes announced to the teachers’ pay structure will be beneficial or detrimental? Here, leaders share their views. More
  • Plantastic voyage
    Nothing solves a problem quite like a carefully constructed, conscientiously costed action plan. Just make sure that everyone has the correctly coloured stationery. More
  • Leaders' Surgery
    The antidote to common leadership conundrums... More
  • Financial times...
    With changes to pensions announced in the Autumn Statement and proposals to change teachers’ pay published only days before ASCL Council met in December, it was no surprise that pay and conditions were high on the agenda. More
Bookmark and Share

Changes to local and national funding formulae could be a recipe for a whole cauldron of bother, says Sam Ellis.

Toil and trouble

Like the first scene of Macbeth, disturbing things seem to crop up in threes. Recently, a trio of items emerged from the woodwork.

First, there was the feedback from members in small rural schools on the potential effects of the local funding formula being simplified along Govian lines. Second, Mr Gove declared a cut of 1,000 Department for Education (DfE) posts and that something like five offces were to close. Third, the National Audit Offce (NAO) reported that the DfE had been unprepared for the implications arising from the expansion of the academies programme and had had to meet about £1 billion of additional costs.

Why do these things disturb me? First, the changes to local funding formulae in April 2013 mean that some members are facing the spectre of massively lower funding levels at some point in the future. Should the projected funding end point materialise when the protection runs out it will not be possible for some to deliver education to the required standard.

The DfE suggests survival strategies in its document, School Funding Reform: Arrangements for 2013-2014. It says that to remain viable, all schools may need to consider alternatives such as shared governance, federation and joining an academy chain. That might be geographically impossible for a small school in Cumbria surrounded by lakes and mountains! The London Underground system does not yet extend to the Lake District.

Social cost

It also takes two to tango. Even if a school needs to join a chain or to federate, it will have to find another institution that is willing to play ball. If the current proposals, with their incomprehensible axiom of a single block sum for all schools, go ahead, some geographically necessary schools, falling outside the parameters of the funding model, will be made to fail. The social and system costs will be beyond the magnitude of the DfE budget issue quoted above.

A second aspect of concern is the way the fair funding is being addressed; to my mind, it is from the wrong direction. The local formulae change in April 2013, but the root cause of inequity, the national distribution to local areas, is promised to change sometime from 2015 onwards. Some schools have indications of potentially frightening funding shifts as a result of local changes. If the national distribution changes, we will see another round of funding upheaval.

A revision to the national distribution could mean a shift of as much as £1,000 per pupil between areas. Some schools are looking down both barrels of a funding drop that may or may not materialise if the national change happens. Others are sailing on quite happily because the local formula change works for them, but they may find that a change in the national formula in 2015 puts them closer to Niagara Falls than they realised.

Why are the DfE putting their shoes on before their socks in trying to address school funding? Despite the rhetoric about “a first step towards a fair funding system”, I am convinced that the answer is in the National Audit Offce’s report on the £1 billion overspend on academy funding. The report said that the DfE had to find the money from other budgets, including the main schools settlement, to cover the overspend.

Revising the local formula arrangements in April 2013 will reduce the overall cost of implementing the academy programme as far as the DfE is concerned. I find that too much of a coincidence not to suspect a connection.

Staffing cuts

The other piece of evidence that leads me to believe that budget pressure is driving funding changes is the massive cut in DfE staffng.

These things taken together concern me, as evidence that the production demand on the whole system may well be exceeding the production capacity. When that happens, elements of the system necessarily fail. Basic management strategies such as starting with the end in view, doing one thing at once and doing the arithmetic seem to have been abandoned for blindly following an ideology.

The National Audit Offce report makes disturbing reading. Combine its implications with the impending revision of the post-16 formula, and the three issues listed above, and we have a financial disaster on the horizon for some schools.

I hope I am wrong in this analysis. None of us can afford for anyone in the education system to fail. To return to an idea from Macbeth, everyone in education from the humblest NQT right through to the secretary of state is occupying a role in which we must be able to place “an absolute trust”.

  • Sam Ellis is ASCL's funding specialist

toil and trouble