Essex Small Schools

Essex Schools Funding Formula Review

National Funding Formula

The long-awaited National Funding Formula is now being consulted over by the DfE. I would encourage all readers of this blog to submit a response (see here). For your reference when constructing your response, I have pasted my own response to any of the bits that are just not a plain “yes” below. Please get the word out and submit!

1 Do you agree with our proposed principles for the funding system?
Yes
Please provide any further comments::
1. A funding system that supports opportunity.
This principle states that “reliable and robust data about pupils’ characteristics should determine the resources their schools receive”. It is important not only that the data are reliable and robust, but that there is an evidence-based approach to using data that achieve the desired impact.
2. A funding system that is fair
This principle states that “funding should be determined by a single, national formula which uses objective and robust measures of pupil and school characteristics”. It is important to note that there are characteristics that are “local” but yet not those of a particular pupil or school including, but not limited to, the different local costs of employment already noted in the consultation document.
3. A funding system that is efficient
This principle states that “Greater consistency of funding across the education sector would make it easier for head teachers, governing bodies, multi-academy trusts and local authorities to compare their spending and outcomes with other schools and areas and identify ways in which they could improve.” This is true only if “outcomes” is defined in a way that provides for measurable quality of education. As such, this principle must be underpinned by serious consideration of the assessment principles currently in operation. For primary schools, I have serious concerns about these (see http://constantinides.net/2015/09/20/assessment-of-primary-school-children-in-england/).
4. A funding system that gets funding straight to schools
I do not see this as a principle. Schools will continue to need to pool funds for certain purposes.
5. A funding system that is transparent
Agreed
6. A funding system that is simple
A quote often attributed to Einstein is of relevance here: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
7. A funding system that is predictable
Agreed

2 Do you agree with our proposal to move to a school-level national funding formula in 2019-20, removing the requirement for local authorities to set a local formula?
No
Please provide any further comments::
I think all the laudable aims of the policy can be achieved with a “soft national funding formula” as outlined in Paragraph 3.3, so I do not see the need for hardening of this formula, which removes local discretion – which I believe should reside with Schools Forums.

3 Do you agree that the basic amount of funding for each pupil should be different at primary, key stage 3 and key stage 4?
Yes
Please provide any further comments::
I believe there is a case for a different rate of funding for EYFS in primary (or infant) schools, currently lumped into KS1 funding rate.

4a Do you agree that we should include a deprivation factor?
Yes
4b Which measures for the deprivation factor do you support?
Pupil- and area-level
Please provide any further comments::
I agree with using the various factors available to us, e.g IDACI and FSM / Ever6 FSM, but we currently have a golden opportunity (which will disappear as a result of the introduction of a national funding formula) to use a boundary discontinuity methodology to determine their weighting in a scientifically rigorous manner. I believe the DfE should make use of this opportunity.

5 Do you agree we should include a low prior attainment factor?
Yes
Please provide any further comments::
The removal of the statutory EYFSP is likely to make primary school prior attainment funding extremely problematic. I do not believe that the baseline EYFS test will provide meaningful data in this regard. I would urge a rethink of the baseline EYFS testing and – if that does not happen – a close monitoring of the correlation between baseline EYFS scores and school-reported SEN Support rates. There is a danger that this factor will become meaningless and poorly distributed after the end of statutory EYFSP results.

When evaluating the relationship between high needs and schools block funding, you should reconsider the requirement of schools to contribute the first £6k of funding from their notional SEN budget. This requirement provides a perverse disincentive for schools – especially small schools – to accept children with high levels of special educational needs.

6a Do you agree that we should include a factor for English as an additional language?
Yes

6b Do you agree that we should use the EAL3 indicator (pupils registered at any point during the previous 3 years as having English as an
additional language)?
No
Please provide any further comments::
There is a counter argument that EAL funding needs to be very significant but for a short period of time, e.g. EAL1 but at 3 times the rate. There is a risk that by using EAL3, a small quantity of funding is “spread out” over too long to make a significant impact. I would be looking for appropriate evidence from the educational research literature here before coming to a final decision.

7 Do you agree that we should include a lump sum factor?
Yes
Please provide any further comments:
Lump Sum is absolutely essential for fair allocation of funding. Paragraph 2.38 of the consultation states “We believe that a national funding formula should take account of costs that do not vary in direct proportion to pupil numbers”
I believe the term “take account of” is too weak, and I would strengthen this to a principle:
“We believe that a national funding formula should *fairly reflect* costs that do not vary in direct proportion to pupil numbers.”
When I surveyed schools in Essex several years ago over their fixed costs, I estimated a total fixed costs in the region of £150k, so it comes as no surprise to me that the modal LA choice of lump sum is in this region. It is essential that this value is maintained.
On methodology, I note that Paragraph 2.40 states “figure 5 shows there is no particularly strong relationship between the average size of school in local authority area and the lump sum value”. I would suggest that you consider correlation between standard deviation of school size and lump sum value instead. If all schools in an area tend to be small or large, then lump sum value makes no difference to fairness – it is when they differ in size that it makes a significant impact.

8 Do you agree that we should include a sparsity factor?
No
Please provide any further comments::
If the lump sum adequately reflects the fixed costs of a school, and is not underfunded, then there is no clear reason to introduce a sparsity factor as a separate element.

15 Do you agree that we should allocate funding for growth to local authorities in 2017-18 and 2018-19 based on historic spend?
No
Please provide any further comments::
It would seem fairer to base this on GP registrations and existing pupil data trends, as there may be areas of the country where historical trends are unlikely to continue.

16b Which methodology for the area cost adjustment do you support?
general labour market methodology
Please provide any further comments::
The general principle I would use is that the existing banding is too coarse and does not reflect significant variations across the “rest of England” band.

 

18 Do you agree that we should not include a factor for mobility?
No
Please provide any further comments::
I have some sympathy for the concerns over mobility funding as it currently functions. However, I think there is a place for determining – once other factors such as low prior attainment and FSM, etc. have been taken into account – the residual disadvantage through pupil mobility, which should be funded accordingly. Again, an evidence-based approach should be used here.

19 Do you agree that we should remove the post-16 factor from 2017-18?
No
Please provide any further comments::
There has been a dramatic change in post-16 funding in recent years, and this factor is probably being used by LAs to smooth out this change which is causing real difficulties for many excellent schools. I would therefore support LAs being allowed to maintain this factor in 2017-18.

20 Do you agree with our proposal to require local authorities to distribute all of their schools block allocation to schools from 2017-18?
No
Please provide any further comments::
I would instead suggest that Local Authorities are required to follow the instructions of their Schools Forums on this matter. Schools Forums, with elected representatives from local schools, are ideally placed to determine the appropriate level of retention.

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