Essex Small Schools

Essex Schools Funding Formula Review

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Report on Lump Sum

I have collected together the data from the survey of small schools with an analysis of the 2011/12 and 2012/13 funding formulae in a report, accessible at The details are in the report, but the overall picture is that a lump sum in the region of £150k would cover the needs of small schools in Essex, whereas a lump sum in the region of £120k would reproduce the existing formula share. Lump sums below that value would be detrimental to small schools in Essex.


MFG Pains

Today was the 2nd SGRG meeting. As agreed at the last meeting, we were presented with papers at today’s meeting with tables illustrating how each Essex school would be affected by setting the lump sum to £100k, £125k, or £150k.

Unfortunately, things are not straight forward, due to the interaction of two changes mandated by the DfE: the change to the new formula structure, and the way that the MFG works. The DfE is proposing to change the MFG so that lump sums are excluded from the MFG calculation in a similar way to that we currently exclude rates.

In theory this makes perfect sense: only protect by MFG those elements of the funding formula that vary with pupil numbers, adding back in the lump sum afterwards. This way small schools that shrink in pupil numbers won’t see their lump sum protection shrink too, and those small schools which grow in pupil numbers won’t see disproportionate gains from that growth. Sounds sensible?

The problem comes with authorities who – up to this point – have woefully inadequate lump sum values. If we, in Essex, simultaneously move from a £77k primary lump sum to a £150k lump sum (say) the year the MFG regulations change, then under the proposed system £77k will be deducted from the 2012/13 budget before subtracting the 1.5% MFG level, and then £150k will be added back on. The net result will be a boost to the school much larger than we expect.

Now remember: this is not just small schools, it’s all schools. The LA have modelled this, and under a £150k lump sum, *every* primary school in Essex will end up on MFG, and some £65m of a total primary budget of £405m would be spent on MFG.

Members of the SGRG were not happy – quite reasonably so – with this essentially artificial level of MFG.

The decision was taken to write to the DfE requesting that the MFG operate in a different manner: either allowing us to maintain the current way of calculating MFG for this transition year or allowing us to discount the new lump sum value rather than the old lump sum value when calculating MFG. I am supportive of this move.

In the mean time, we must prepare for the possibility that the DfE does not allow this to happen. In this case, there will unfortunately be a tradeoff between giving small schools what they deserve in the long term and avoiding funding disruption in the short term. This should not be the case.

To the credit of the SGRG chair, he has requested that we initially take a principled look at the data without the MFG complication.

The LA have therefore been asked to produce the following data for the next meeting:

  1. A model assuming no minimum funding guarantee payouts, i.e. all the £65m referred to above is rolled into per pupil funding, to provide a better indication of the long-term position of the schools.
  2. A model assuming the DfE agrees to our proposal on MFG calculation.
  3. A comparison of both models to the 2012/13 budget share of each school in Essex.
  4. Extension of the existing data to a lump sum value of £80k and £90k in addition to the already-modelled values of £100k, £125k and £150k. I am not supportive of a lump sum below £100k, for reasons I discuss in a previous post and I will elaborate upon soon.
  5. Ordering of the data by number of pupils, so we can clearly see the impact on different sizes of schools.

Report From 1st SGRG Meeting

Today was the first meeting of the SGRG. There were eight people present and six apologies.

All in all, I found it to be a constructive meeting and I hope that we have begun to break down some barriers of mistrust between SF the LA and small schools. There is clearly a conservatism about making too many changes at this stage, amplified by the short timescale under which this review is being conducted.

In detail (click on “

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Fixed Costs: Interim Data

I have been collecting data from small schools in Essex on their fixed costs. Many costs in a school do not increase with pupil numbers, such as software and support subscriptions, basic administration and reprographics leasing, buildings maintenance, headteacher costs, governing body support, and several other costs enumerated in a survey sent out to small schools. I hope these data will be useful when determining an appropriate lump sum element. As noted in my previous post, setting the lump sum to an artificially small value not only threatens the survival of efficient small schools but also funds inefficiencies in large schools via artificially inflated AWPU funding. There will, of course, be the need to drill into this data in detail, but I thought small schools may themselves be interested in the histogram below of reported small school fixed costs.

The mean reported fixed cost is currently in the region of £150,000.

More Papers for 1st SGRG Meeting

This morning I have received papers for Agenda items 4 and 5. These can be found, together with the other papers for the meeting, at

My initial thoughts:

Agenda Item 4

4.4. The “split” of Essex’s AEN factor into a new deprivation factor and a new low-cost, high-incidence SEN factor needs to be carefully examined from an educational perspective. The DfE’s intention is to target the low-cost high-incidence SEN factor through EYFSP results. It is very important that we gain an understanding of the correlation that exists between failure to reach 78points on EYFSP and currently identified SEN (ESA, ESA+ and Statements). Undoubtedly there will be some correlation, but this should neither be underplayed nor overplayed in the formula: we should ensure the correlation is funded and adequate baseline funding is provided to mop up the uncorrelated and unpredictable elements of low-cost, high-incidence SEN. The deprivation factor is more problematic, as I believe we will find it difficult to obtain hard evidence for how funding of deprivation affects outcomes: I have searched for literature in this area and drawn a blank. The best we may be able to do is to collect and scrutinise the data I outline in my previous post. I did, however, come across this interesting discussion of the relative merits of various deprivation indicators:


Papers for 1st SGRG Meeting

Today I received the first papers for the first SGRG meeting on Thursday. They can be found at The papers cover Items 2 and 3 on the agenda. Papers for Items 4 and 5 are expected tomorrow.

My initial views, before talking to colleagues on the SGRG, are below. I would welcome comments and feedback in the usual ways about how to represent your views.

Item 2: Terms of Reference

7.1. The DfE has placed LA in a difficult position w.r.t. timing, and I have some sympathy with this predicament. However, I would suggest amending 7.1 to ensure that as full consultation as possible is held with all schools.

Annex A.

2. This refers to “work undertaken to investigate specific elements of the formula, using reports brought by consultants”. I hope that the SGRG will have an opportunity to propose the work being undertaken by any such consultants and to monitor the methodologies being used – offloading analysis to consultants can be beneficial, but care must be taken to engage with them throughout the process.

5. “To receive confidential draft outcomes of the review for discussion and debate prior to a formal consultation in July – September 2012”. This needs clarification: it cannot be acceptable to try to ensure that any papers relating to the distribution of public funds remain “confidential”, even if they are only discussion documents. In the eyes of many small schools, the process last time round suffered from a lack of transparency and, whether this is true or only perceived to be true, extra special care must be taken this time to ensure the utmost transparency in the process.


Essex LA Response to DfE Consultation

I requested the response provided by the Local Authority to the DfE’s recent consultation on school funding reform. I am very pleased that their response to Question 4, “Where within the £100k-150k range do you think the upper limit [for lump sums] should be set?” states “None“. The commentary provided by Essex LA states:

The Lump Sum will be dependent on the number of schools and the proportion of small schools in each authority. Local authorities with rural areas are more likely to have small village schools and therefore local discretion is critical in ensuring that small schools are able to exist.


Data for Specific Grants Review Group

I have sent the email below (click “More…”) to fellow members of the SGRG. I would be very pleased to hear additional suggestions for data the SGRG should scrutinise before coming to a decision over the funding formula elements. Suggestions can be emailed to me at or left as comments to this post.

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Dates of SGRG Meetings

I have just received an email setting the dates of the SGRG meetings over the review period. As expected, we have a tight schedule: 24 May31 May6 June, 13 June, 20 June.


Response to DfE Consultation

The DfE currently has a consultation out on school funding, with a closing date of 21st May 2012 for submissions. I would urge schools in Essex to respond to this consultation, as its outcome will shape the parameters within which the local funding formula can be set. The consultation can be found at

My own response has been to the following questions:

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