February 2016


  • Storm warning
    Julia Harnden looks at what the outcome of the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review means for education and how schools can navigate the choppy waters ahead. More
  • Surviving trauma
    Kate Dolmor’s world was turned upside down when her husband became gravely ill. Support from the ASCL Benevolent Fund has helped Kate and her family deal with the practical and personal fall-out ever since. More
  • First principles
    The profession needs to take back the initiative on assessment and recover the ground lost during the decades when it became a tool of accountability rather than an aid to learning, says Brian Lightman. More
  • Ease the pressure
    Leaders need to set clear strategies now for coping with their school’s or college’s workload if they are to confront the challenges of the next few years. Suzanne O’Farrell and Sam Ellis, leaders of a new ASCL course on the subject, set out the issues. More
  • Opening minds
    Simon Cohen, a keynote speaker at ASCL’s Annual Conference, talks to Julie Nightingale about giving away his business, laughing with the Dalai Lama and why children are our biggest source of wisdom. More
  • A common purpose
    The English and Welsh education systems may be diverging but both must be shaped by the values of their educators if improvement is to be sustained, say ASCL’s Leora Cruddas and Tim Pratt. More
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Julia Harnden looks at what the outcome of the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review means for education and how schools can navigate the choppy waters ahead.

Storm warning

Julia Harnden looks at what the outcome of the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review means for education and how schools can navigate the choppy waters ahead.The results of the government Comprehensive Spending Review, the first under a majority Conservative government since the 1990s, were announced by Chancellor George Osborne in November 2015. The review, carried out every three years or so, determines the spending for each government department from scratch and without any reference to past plans. 

Now that we know more about what this government has in store for education over the life of this Parliament the big questions are: what is going to change, what can we do to influence the future and what can leaders do to make sure that their school or college is a successful part of the future and not a victim of it? 

The chancellor confirmed that, as part of the Department for Education’s (DfE’s) settlement, the dedicated schools grant and the Pupil Premium grant will be protected. The revenue spending for the department is, however, set to rise by £3.5 billion by 2020. All of us in the sector are aware of the growth in the pupil population and undoubtedly most, if not all, of this increase will be required to meet the need for extra places. 

Education Services Grant 

There was not good news about the education services grant (ESG), which provides academies with funds to purchase the services that the local authority (LA) provides for maintained schools. The grant was the subject of significant cuts in a previous spending review and in this round the total grant fund will be cut by £600 million. 

The suggestion that it will disappear altogether over the next five years is a grave concern to both academies and maintained schools. If the government is pushing forward on phasing out LA statutory duties, currently covered by the LA strand of the ESG, and therefore reducing their role in the running of a school, where will maintained schools find the money to provide services such as welfare, human resources and internal audit? At a time when unfunded cost increases are crippling school budgets the concept of cutting the ESG will fill all school leaders with fear. The per-pupil rates for the ESG in 2016–17 should have been announced by the time you are reading this issue of Leader. 

Sixth-form colleges 

The spending review signals a positive step for sixth-form colleges. These institutions can now apply for conversion to academy status and therefore will be able to claim back VAT on their non-business expenditure. This is likely to represent a saving of about 3.5 per cent on the bottom line. 

It’s a relief that the base rate per student for 16–19 year olds has been protected at £4,000 but this won’t be enough to halt the reduction in courses that schools and colleges are able to provide to post-16 students. 

National funding formula 

The commitment to a national funding formula for schools has been consigned to the ‘too difficult’ drawer for far too long. ASCL has been campaigning for a fair funding formula for more than 20 years and it is disappointing to note that previous governments didn’t seize the opportunity to tackle this when budgets were on the increase. It is a much more difficult exercise to do when budgets are tight. However, it is good to know we have been listened to and ASCL is looking forward to working even more closely with government during the consultation on fair funding early this year. 

The ASCL Blueprint for a Self-Improving System (www.ascl.org.uk/blueprint) calls for an education system in which all children and young people achieve and in which institutions are funded sufficiently, equitably and sustainably. Our persuasive argument will always be for a formula for distribution that enables equality of opportunity for every child and young person in this country but the call for equity must not detract from the need for sufficiency. Only if these two are carefully combined will the formula be sustainable and enable our education system – and most importantly the young people who are in it – to flourish and reach their potential. 

The chancellor’s statement indicates that the national funding formula, which will include high needs and early years, will be implemented in 2017–18. It’s encouraging to have a date to focus on but part of the consultation process will need to carefully consider the period of transition required for full implementation and must also include the cautious phasing out of the ESG. 

The DfE capital funding settlement for 2015–20 is £23 billion. This is phased over the life of the Parliament and will be targeted towards the completion of the Priority Schools Building Programme (phases 1 and 2). In addition to addressing the condition of the current school stock the government made a pledge in their election manifesto to open 500 new free schools. In some cases a free school will be the solution to address the increased demand for school places, but we will continue to urge our colleagues at the DfE to make sure that schools with existing spare capacity are also part of the solution. 

Hot on the heels of the spending review the government has announced two grant schemes to support primary schools that are applying to convert to academy status or wanting to join an existing academy chain. For more information, go to http://tinyurl.com/gwxhwco and http://tinyurl.com/z47dyrv 


Collaboration is increasingly a feature of the landscape in the education sector and ASCL has worked with Browne Jacobson LLP and the National Governors’ Association to put together guidance on how to approach such a significant change. The guidance, Forming or Joining a Group of Schools: Staying in control of your school’s destiny (see www.ascl.org.uk/help-and-advice/ guidance-papers) is for senior leaders and governors of stand-alone schools (maintained schools or academies) as they consider whether to form or join a federation or multi-academy trust (MAT). 

The benefits of collaboration are many but include sharing good practice, access to high-quality staff, resilience in addressing the stark realities of teacher recruitment in the current climate and financial efficiencies resulting from economies of scale and collective purchasing. 

Financial efficiency 

Financial efficiency has always been a key driver for school leaders but now and in the future it will be essential for any school or college to survive the stormy financial waters that we are required to navigate. The 2015 spending review hasn’t changed this but its impact on funding in the sector make it imperative that financial efficiency is high on the agenda at every strategic planning meeting.