December 2017


  • All the right moves
    The future is never certain in the world of education says Geoff Barton. However, one thing leaders can rely on is that ASCL will continue to protect, defend and advise them. More
  • Preparation is key
    New data protection laws will apply from next year and schools and colleges must prepare for them now says Daljit Kaur, Associate at Browne Jacobson. More
  • Head first
    In a bid to equip young people with the tools to navigate their mental health and build their self-esteem, mental health organisation The Self-Esteem Team shares its top tips for staff and pupils. More
  • Time to speak out
    LGBT+ students need more role models among their teachers if they are to come out with confidence, says Daniel Gray, one of the organisers of new support and advocacy group LGBTed. More
  • Leading character education
    As discussion grows around character education, researchers David Sims and Matt Walker from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) highlight key findings from a new research project into the ways that five pioneering schools are leading character education within their settings. More
  • The gift of knowledge
    In celebration of the 100th issue of ASCL's Leader magazine, we asked senior leaders to share one piece of advice they would give to their younger selves if they were starting their first leadership role today. Here's what they said... More
  • Unfair shares
    Sam Ellis, Susan Fielden and Julia Harnden test out the National Funding Formula (NFF) and find it wanting. More
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Sam Ellis, Susan Fielden and Julia Harnden test out the National Funding Formula (NFF) and find it wanting.

Unfair shares

Some questions are very simple to ask but difficult to answer. Why is the sky blue? How can something as heavy as a jumbo jet stay in the air? Why do all graffiti artists have the same handwriting? The question at the heart of school funding is one of these and no one has yet come up with an answer that everyone can agree with. The basic question is: What does ‘fair funding’ mean?

At one end of the spectrum, we have the fairness of process where all schools are treated the same and expected to ‘get on with it’. At the other, we have a more nuanced view that considers the needs in an individual school and the needs of a set of pupils, and then seeks to provide all schools with a fair opportunity to deliver the required outcome.

The simple approach may start with the same treatment for all, so every school received £4,800 per pupil. Then it becomes more nuanced with factors such as “London schools need more per pupil because the cost of employing staff is higher”. Add in “Should a school with higher levels of deprivation get more per pupil funding than a school with low levels of deprivation?” and it all becomes quite confusing.

Testing the NFF

The proposed National Funding Formula (NFF) attempts to tread a balanced path through this minefield, so we have put it to the test.

We took a very basic curriculum model for a secondary school. The structural offer to pupils was:

  • There should be groups no larger than 30 in Key Stage 3 for 23 out of 25 hours.
  • There should be groups in Key Stage 3 of no more than 20 for 2 out of 25 hours.
  • There should be core class groups no larger than 30 in Key Stage 4 for 16 hours out of 25.
  • There should be access to three option choices with group sizes that allow for an element of choice and with a minimum offer of three subjects per choice block. Each choice block to take three hours.

To allow an element of choice we used an option choice for every 22 pupils on roll for roll numbers higher than 66 pupils.

We decided that it may be reasonable for a small school to teach pupils by stage and not age, thereby saving on some costs by being able to amalgamate across year groups.

We put in a variable for the number of pupils in KS3 to provide the threshold level below which mixed year group teaching could be used. In the model shown it is 180 pupils. So in a school with year groups of 60 pupils or fewer, the KS3 pupils could be combined into one large cohort before sub-division into classes.

Average teacher cost

How much teachers teach is defined by the contact ratio. We set the value at 0.78, based on 10% of non-contact time for planning, preparation and assessment activities (PPA), 10% of non-contact time for management time and an additional 2% of non-contact time for flexibility.

For finance variables, we took the median values for average teacher cost and proportion of spend on teachers (pT) for non-London schools in 2015, and inflated the teaching costs and other costs by 3% to give estimates for 2018 values. These were average teacher cost £48,271 and proportion of revenue available for teacher cost pT = 0.536.

We used the values to model the cost of putting this basic curriculum on in 11–16 schools with little or no deprivation and little or no enhancement in teaching staff beyond that indicated by the model.

The NFF works by giving schools funding in four basic blocks plus a section that tops schools up to a minimum per pupil level. The minimum level set for 2018 is £4,600 per pupil for a secondary school. It is applied to the total of basic per pupil amounts, additional needs, lump sum and sparsity allocations. The funding points on the chart (Fig 1) are for secondary schools that get just a lump sum (£110,000) plus the per pupil amounts for KS3 (£3,863) and KS4 (£4,386):

Playing with the variables produces some shift in the picture but the pattern and broad conclusions do not change:

  1. The minimum per pupil level protects most secondary schools with more than 600 pupils. These schools may have funding in their basic allocation that can be used to supplement any funding they may receive for deprivation and other factors.
  2. The lump sum in the funding formula is too small to have a significant impact on the funding of very small secondary schools (fewer than about 200 pupils).
  3. Small schools with an 11–16 roll lower than 450 are at significant financial risk unless they receive sufficient deprivation funding that can be used to support a basic curriculum.
  4. Where schools cannot operate at the projected median levels shown in the first chart then the roll number at which financial risk kicks in rises.
  5. The process used is clearly fair, but the output is far from equitable in terms of equality of opportunity to deliver a basic curriculum.

It is a good thing that the NFF is published and can be discussed and modified. But it lacks the mathematical sophistication required to match the need of the wide range of schools in the country. And the fundamental truths do not change: there is insufficient funding in the system to meet schools’ needs.

The key risks are clearly unfunded pay rises and other cost increases. When those two factors are linked to teacher workload the result can be quite stark (See Fig 2): In this case, the average teacher cost from 2015 has been inflated, purely for the sake of illustration, by 5% and the other school costs inflated by 3% from 2015 using the lower quartile of spend proportion as the starting point. The teacher workload issue has also been reflected in a reduced contact ratio of 0.75.

Deprivation funding

The result is clear: all sizes of school would need to use some level of deprivation funding to support even the most basic curriculum.

We think ‘fair’ means the same educational offer with the same right to PPA time, the same expectation of capacity for management and leadership in efficient schools with tight management of non-teaching costs, and no requirement to subsidise core provision with money intended for children and young people with additional needs.

Whether or not we can persuade anyone in a position of power to share that view and use some mathematics beyond a simplistic lump sum and per pupil amount to realise it is another difficult question.

Professional development

Julia and Sam are leading special ASCL PD one-day courses in February and March on The National Funding Formula: The Cost to Your Curriculum.

Find out more and book your place online at

Julia Harnden
ASCL Funding Specialist

Sam Ellis
Funding and Timetable Consultant

Susan Fielden
School Finance Specialist