The second meeting of the funding formula review group for the year was held on Wednesday the 15th in Chelmsford. This meeting was well attended, in contrast to the first.
The first major item on the agenda was the funding of special schools. This is an area about which I know little, but it appears there are some real concerns about the way Essex funds its special schools and the number of (expensive) out-of-county placements that arise from this funding. It seems that the current method is to provide a designation of “type of need” to each school, which is then funded at a specific rate per pupil; this doesn’t seem to take account of the needs of particular pupils, or that not all pupils in a given school will have that type of need. There seems to be a desire to invest in special school provision in the county in order to increase capacity and save in the future. This all seems sensible, but there does not appear to be a well defined process, and there are at least two parallel committees looking at funding decisions that affect special schools. It was therefore resolved to ask the LA officers involved to attend the next meeting to clarify process.
The second item related to the secondary : primary funding ratio. Currently in Essex this is 1.31, i.e. secondary schools receive, on average, 1.31 times the funding per pupil of primary schools. The figure Mr Stupples-Whyley has been given by the DfE as a national average is 1.27. In order to understand the potential impact of changing this figure, the previous meeting had requested a summary of the total spend per pupil broken down by LA across the primary and secondary sector. In Essex we spend £3,767 per primary pupil, which is the median spend of our statistical neighbours (Essex, Central Beds, Hampshire, Kent, West Sussex, Worcs, Warwickshire, Swindon, Staffs, North Somerset and Leics). We spend £5,027 per secondary pupil, which is slightly higher than the median. Thus our spends generally are not out of line with these authorities on either primary or secondary. Nevertheless, we requested the LA to run a model to judge the impact on schools of a change from 1.31 to 1.27, which will be discussed at a future meeting.
The third item related to the ever-important Lump Sum element. The LA had been asked by Richard Thomas at the previous meeting to model the “theoretical” scenario of decreasing the lump sum to zero and by me to balance this by modelling an increase of the lump sum to £175k. The impact on primaries of eliminating lump sum was drastic, as one would expect, with our smallest primaries receiving a budget of c.£200k, of which c.£100k was propped up in the short term by the minimum funding guarantee! I am pleased to report that all present viewed this scenario as completely untenable. Nobody was able to offer a clear argument why we should have a different lump sum for primaries and secondaries. We therefore resolved to keep the lump sum at its present value, with the proviso that we will revisit the lump sum when sparsity factor is discussed at a future meeting.
The next meeting will be in late November, and will cover low-cost high-incidence SEN funding, EAL, notional SEN funding and special schools top-up funding. I would encourage readers with views on these issues to get in touch.