On Thursday afternoon, the SGRG reconvened to discuss the “impact” of the 13/14 funding formula and revisit whether any changes need to be made for 14/15. The DfE has not yet made clear the constraints under which Essex LA will need to operate when determining a 14/15 funding formula, although some possible insight can be gleaned from the recent DfE consultation.
The meeting was largely uneventful, as there do not appear to be major concerns from any sector about the changes introduced last year. EAL funding and MOD funding changes appear to be the areas in which some schools have raised concerns, but in both cases it seems likely that the DfE framework will not allow a return to pre 13/14 funding of these elements.
The recent DfE consultation hinted that a separate lump sum for primaries and secondaries may become allowable once again in 14/15. I am against this move, as I do not see the case to have distinct lump sums (which would imply that the fixed costs of running an n-pupil secondary are different from those running an n-pupil primary). I do, of course, support greater key-stage funding (per pupil) for KS3 and KS4 compared to KS1/2 as there is a strong argument in favour of this (specialist equipment, etc.) I am pleased to report that the SGRG agreed, and we are likely to keep one lump sum of £150k if allowed to by the DfE.
There may be an option to change the ratio of per-pupil funding for EYFS compared to KS1 from 14/15, and there was some considerable discussion over this point. This would make little change to all-through primaries, but would effectively shift some funding away from junior schools towards infant schools. However, it would result in more year-on-year funding turbulence since a larger proportion of funding would depend on Reception numbers. Members agreed to take this point away and consult more widely.
I agreed with the Essex LA perspective that EYFSP scores should continue to determine low-cost high-incidence SEN funding, although I fail to see how this will work with any precision since the abolition of the points-based profile.
I raised a general principle that thresholds, quotas, etc., for example relating to turbulence funding, should always be stated in proportionate terms (e.g. if more than 10% of the school…) not in absolute terms (e.g. if more than 30 pupils…) in order to be equitable across different sizes of schools, and this principle was agreed by those present.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the DfE consultation, which was discussed in detail, is the potential to be forced to introduce a “school level sparsity” factor as a way of funding “genuinely needed” small schools instead of – or in lieu of part of – a lump sum payment. While the principle of funding small schools in rural areas more generously than small schools in densely populated areas may have some support, the proposed method of funding would be grossly unfair. The DfE is suggesting that “average distance” be used (details of calculation are available in the DfE funding consultation) and a threshold introduced to trigger funding. Both of these ideas are unsound. Average distance does not capture the economics of travel to school, and would particularly hit schools with bimodal distance distributions: consider a hypothetical school with 50% of nearby pupils living 1 mile away from their second nearest school and 50% living 9 miles away. The average would be 5 miles, which may fall under a threshold of – say – 6 miles and attract no funding. Meanwhile another school with all pupils living 6 miles away would attract significant funding: what about access for the 50% of pupils in the first school? Secondly, the measure of distance does not capture transportation issues (existence of bus routes, for example) or time taken. Finally, but perhaps the most worryingly, this idea is posed in abstract by the DfE without any data to model its implications. The SGRG was united in its rejection of such a metric for Essex, but we need to ensure that one is not forced on us by the DfE. There was, however, support to provide a “carrot” for genuinely nearby small schools to merge, possibly through the DfE’s proposal to retain both lump sums for some years post merger.
The group will reconvene – probably in June – once further details of the DfE’s framework for 14/15 become available. A proposal will then go to Schools Forum and schools will be consulted over the Summer (again!)
Fingers crossed that not too many changes are mandated nationally for 14/15!