Today saw the next installment of the finance review group review of 16/17 funding. There were three items on the agenda: special schools, deprivation funding, and pupil mobility.
The group reviewed the proportion of High Needs Block funding that Essex spends on special schools compared to other LAs. However, the group felt that these data were insufficient to draw any conclusion, and asked for:
- the proportion of pupils with a statement or EHCP in special schools in different LAs
- an estimate of funding requirements for special schools on a needs basis, drawn up by the heads of special schools
- a detailed comparison with another representative authority, such as Kent LA, on how they fund special schools
Blog readers will remember that I was cautious about moving more deprivation funding into FSM in primary schools due to the uncertainty over FSM registration after the introduction of universal free school meals this year. I therefore asked at a previous meeting for data on FSM registration rates amongst EYFS pupils over the past few years, to see whether there has been a significant change this year. We do not yet have these data, but the LA has confirmed that they are being collected and will be presented at a future meeting.
There was some discussion over whether the LA needed to take a holistic view of deprivation funding, incorporating pupil premium into the calculation of how much funding should go through the separate LA-determined deprivation factor. There was general support for this approach, and so we asked the LA to produce nominal figures for the total amount of funding per pupil provided by LA to support deprivation, whether that comes from FSM registration via the LA formula, IDACI via the LA formula, or pupil premium.
There was further discussion over whether to change from the current FSM to the FSM6 metric when distributing LA deprivation funding coming through FSM. I argued that FSM6 provided more stability for schools, as it shows less fluctuation year-on-year, and is arguably a better deprivation indicator in any case. Richard Thomas said that there is evidence to suggest that pupils who are eligible for FSM for a continuous period have lower attainment than those who come off FSM after a short period on, so raw FSM may concentrate funding to need. Jeff Fair noted that the current level of FSM funding was tied to the amount actually required to fund the meals themselves (with the rest of deprivation funding coming through IDACI) so if we increased the number of pupils eligible by adopting FSM6, we should increase the funding for FSM by the same ratio to compensate accordingly (removing that funding from IDACI).
The LA presented models of IDACI funding based on the proposals I made in a previous meeting to fund in proportion to the expected number of deprived pupils present in the school, using the IDACI index as a probability metric. As expected, this provided some concentration of funding towards the higher deprivation areas, but perhaps less expected, it also provided a considerable increase in deprivation funding for pupils at the lowest (non-zero) level of deprivation, due to the nonlinearity in the current LA funding criteria.
The group briefly looked at the introduction of a pupil mobility factor. However, it soon became clear that the DfE data on pupil mobility appears to be flawed (with some secondaries apparently showing mobility rates of 70%+). The LA reported that this is due to the measure of mobility being used, which is not to be trusted when a school converts to a particular form of academy. There was a general feeling in the group that there is not much to be gained by pursuing the allocation of funding through a metric with such clear flaws. This is unfortunate in my view – if the DfE could be persuaded to change its methodology so that the data were more meaningful in Essex – then we could possibly answer the question of whether a mobility factor is of value, by modeling the correlation between deprivation and attainment and factoring that out before determining whether schools with high mobility produce low attainment, or whether low attainment in areas of high mobility can be largely explained through deprivation alone.