Essex Small Schools

Essex Schools Funding Formula Review

Schools Forum July 2015

The last Schools Forum of the school year took place yesterday in Chelmsford. The significant issues of interest were as follows.

  • The recommendations we’ve worked on for the school formula were approved, and will shortly be sent to schools for consultation. The KS1 class size changes are to the benefit of small schools, who should vote YES to this change, which removes the unnecessary restriction that only schools with more than 120 pupils can access the fund. However, unfortunately the positive changes will not be very clearly visible in the spreadsheets the LA will circulate, because the additional funding small schools will receive will be through the LA’s retained growth fund rather than through the school funding formula. I have asked the LA to clarify this in the accompanying text.
  • We had a presentation from the new School Effectiveness Plus team, who are likely to return to Schools Forum in October to ask for financial support for their work to complement, or instead of, individual school subscriptions. I asked that they consider a model where subscribing schools pay per pupil on roll rather than as a flat rate per school. They agreed to look at this option.
  • The programme for improved SEN provision was approved, top slicing 0.35% of school budgets, after the LA had come back with a detailed explanation of the various issues raised at previous meetings.
  • We set up a working group to revise the banding of SEN pupil need. I intervened to suggest that the remit of the working group be widened to consider all bandings, not just the highest need (£15k per pupil or more) and this was agreed. I think further clarity over SEN banding would be very helpful.

I wish everyone a great Summer holiday!


Funding Review Group: June 2015

The funding review group met for the last time this school year on the 24th June to discuss Looked After Children, Additional Funding for Reception Pupils, and the format of the forthcoming consultation with schools. There was a further item on a banding structure for “high needs” SEN, but this item was postponed pending further work by the LA. Before these items were discussed, I followed up on my previous question about KS1 class size funding. The LA was able to confirm that there is currently a bar on schools with fewer than 120 pupils accessing the pot of contingency money reserved for when there is a significant change in the number of KS1 pupils at a school. Currently schools with more than 120 pupils receive an amount of funding proportional to the difference between the number of KS1 pupils on roll in September divided by 30 rounded up to the next whole number and the number of KS1 pupils on roll at census date divided by 25 rounded up to the next whole number. The LA confirmed that there is a good number of schools who would benefit from this funding if extended to schools below 120 pupils on roll. Nobody seemed particularly clear why this bar was in place, and I proposed that it be removed. In order to determine the impact on primary AWPU, the LA is intending to circulate a revised proposal with / without the bar and with / without the divisors in the two figures both set at 30 (nobody was clear why it should be 25 in one case and 30 in the other.) The review group, after much discussion, agreed to the LA’s suggestion of introducing a factor from the funding formula for Looked After Children (distinct to the pupil premium) of £500 per child. Much of the discussion over the differences between LAC funding from the pupil premium and other LAC funding seemed to revolve around the way Essex centrally controls the pupil premium funding for LAC, and I think this may be an area for further investigation in the future. The LA was able to confirm that EYFS and KS1 children must now be funded at the same rate, and there are no local exceptions to this rule mandated by the DfE. This is likely to result in a minor shift of funding away from infant schools towards junior schools, with all-through primaries unaffected. The group decided to propose a simplified form of consultation with schools, listing all factors in the funding formula, but only detailing any changes proposed for 16/17, so that schools have clarity over changes to the funding profile. This consultation will go to Schools Forum on the 15th of July, and if approved there will be rolled out to schools before the end of term with a closure date towards the end of September 2015.

Schools Forum: May 2015

Today was the May 2015 meeting of Essex Schools Forum. Full papers get posted by the LA here, so I will limit myself here to the topics discussed today that are of particular interest or where I made contributions. There were also some confidential items discussed, which I cannot report on this blog because they relate to the finances of particular schools.

In County Provision for SEND Pupils

The LA presented further work on their scheme to invest in building more special school places. Part of this was a request to revise upwards the cost of this scheme from 0.24% of delegated budgets to 0.35% of delegated budgets. I clarified that this would, in practice, fall on AWPU rather than across multiple factors, and this was confirmed to be the case. I also queried how the proposed expenditure would help with the aims of improving the quality of provision, increasing capacity, and increasing cost efficiency, and asked what evidence the LA had that spending this funding on capital projects for special schools would result in better outcomes than simply investing more per pupil in the existing special school places. The LA responded that 95% of special schools in Essex are Good or Outstanding, so the need was mainly to increase the number of spaces. Finally, I queried the criteria used by the LA to prioritise their building projects. I was told that they were ranked by officers based on (a) cost effectiveness (revenue cost per pupil), (b) transport / geographical need, (c) quality of provision.

Several SF members were unhappy that there wasn’t both a more concise presentation of the financial costs and benefits and that there was not school-level modelling of the impact of the delegated budget reduction. The meeting resolved to request these clarifications be brought back to the next SF meeting before coming to a decision.

Falling Rolls Fund

I noticed that there is an interesting anomaly in the falling rolls fund. If a good or outstanding school has a roll that is project to fall and then increase, it may access this fund (subject to technical definitions of fall and increase). However, it may be possible that the increase is not to the same level as before the fall, and yet schools could possibly access this fund to mitigate the impact of staff restructuring costs. For example, if School A went from 1000 pupils to 780 pupils and then to 800 pupils, it would be eligible for help; School B going from 1000 pupil straight to 800 would not. I therefore asked Forum to consider separating the elements of cost relating to maintaining provision at the target steady-state roll from those elements of cost relating to downsizing when considering a future criteria revision. Schools Forum also agreed that when academies apply to this fund in the future they will need to provide the LA with the same level of scrutiny over their finances that the LA has over maintained schools already.

School Finance Review Group

The recommendations made from our last formula review group meeting were noted without comment.

Finance Review Group – April 2015

The finance review group met today in Chelmsford to consider the following elements of the school funding formula in Essex:

  • English as an Additional Language
  • Sparsity Factor
  • Primary : Secondary Funding Differential
  • Key Stage 1 Class Size Adjustment

English as an Additional Language

Following modelling from the LA, we agreed to two changes to the way EAL will be funded in Essex. Firstly, we are proposing to concentrate the funding into a single year, so schools receive a substantial sum for one year rather than a smaller sum each year over two years; the thinking here is that children with high EAL needs need intensive, quick, support to enable them to access the curriculum. Secondly, we are proposing to keep the rate of funding for each EAL pupil constant going into 16/17, not the size of the total EAL pot (as has been the case to now) thus allowing the EAL funding pot to track the EAL need.

Sparsity Factor

The “Sparsity Factor” is a relatively recent factor provided by the DfE to enable LAs to fund small schools “in areas where they are genuinely needed”. The DfE’s view of “genuinely needed” appears to revolve around the relative population sparsity. Unfortunately, in my view the current parameters LAs have been given by the DfE make this factor something of a pig’s ear. For each school, the average over all pupils of the difference in distance between that pupil’s closest school and their second-closest school is calculated. If this average is at least two miles, funding is awarded. Thus it is possible to have two nearby schools, one with sparsity measure 1.99 miles and another with sparsity measure 2.00 miles, the former receiving nothing while the latter receives a handsome lump sum. This would be paid for by shaving the lump sum (or, less likely, the AWPU, of other schools.) In addition, funding can be awarded as either a number-on-roll-independent figure (the meeting considered anything from £25k to £100k) or as a tapered value. A single lump sum creates a severe perverse incentive not to grow (or even to shrink) schools, as a school with 151 pupils would be considerable worse off than a school with 149 pupils, for example. A tapered value mitigates against this incentive, but it still exists because while the school gains in AWPU per new pupil, it loses in tapered sparsity. I presented (with the help of Richard Thomas from ASHE, who lent me his projector) some plots of to illustrate these points. I argued that if we keep the lump sum value as a genuine reflection of the fixed costs involved in running a school, then we can avoid all these problems. It was agreed to maintain our lump sum and not implement a sparsity factor.

Primary : Secondary Funding Differential

It has been known for some time that Essex funds its primary schools at a lower rate compared to its secondary schools when compared to many other counties. Our ratio is 1:1.31 (i.e £1.31 to secondaries for £1 to primaries) whereas the national average is in the region of 1:1.27. The LA presented some startling figures to show the impact of moving the funding differential to 1:1.27. While primaries would do well, of course, secondaries would be hit so hard that it would be impossible to support the Minimum Funding Guarantee through AWPU reduction alone, and lump sum would have to be reduced for the secondary sector. The recommendation from the LA was therefore that if we wished to move towards a national average funding differential, this should be staged over years.

Richard Thomas (ASHE) noted the severe pressure faced by the secondary sector at the moment, especially in those schools with sixth forms, due to very significant reduction in post-16 funding. He also argued that if a national funding formula mandates a move to a differential in the region of 1:1.27 it will be done in stages anyway.

I said that I could see two reasons to change the funding differential: to avoid radical swings in funding in the secondary sector if a national funding formula is brought in quickly, and to improve the quality of outcomes in primaries in Essex. On the presumption that Mr Thomas is correct about a staged introduction, the main reason to be considered is the latter, and we have not yet been presented with data about the relative performance of primary and secondary sectors in LAs with different funding differentials; I asked for this data, so that an informed decision could be made in the future.

Key Stage 1 Class Size Adjustment

The LA has asked whether we wish to retain the KS1 class size adjustment contingency since the relaxation of the statutory requirement on 30 children in a KS1 class. It was decided to retain the contingency. I asked the LA to check the criteria for accessing this fund to ensure that there are no stipulations about minimum school size, which I believe there have been in the past, and to propose to remove them if there were. This was agreed.

Schools Finance Review Group March 2015

The Finance Review Group met on the 11th March for the next phase of the 16/17 Essex school formula review. The agenda consisted of three points: special schools, deprivation funding, and English as an additional language (EAL).

Special Schools

The major new item here was that at the group’s request, Mr Stupples-Whyley had found a variety of information about the very different way in which Kent funds its special schools, and we were asked to look at this paper. Essex funds its special schools by the category of need they were established for. Essex special schools are divided into CLiP, NMSS, Primary BESD Residential, and Secondary BESD Residential. The LA had collected the lowest and highest “top up” funding these schools receive per pupil over the nominal £10k place value. Kent funds school topup based on the identified category of need of each pupil, broken down into MLD/SLCN, BESD, SLD, PMLD, ASC, PMLD Residential, BESD Residential, and ASC Residential.

Apart from the structural difference in the way funding is allocated, there seem to be some remarkable differences in the level of funding. In particular:

  • The LA reports that children with ASC in special schools will typically attend a CLiP in Essex, where the highest rate of topup funding is £2079 per pupil. Yet a pupil with ASC in a Kent special school will attract a minimum topup funding of £7492.
  • Children with identified PMLD in Essex would appear in NMSS schools, where the highest rate of topup funding is £8095 per pupil. Yet the lowest rate of topup funding for a pupil with PMLD in Kent in a special school is £11984.
  • Residential places in Essex seem to be funded at half (or less) the topup rate at which they are funded in Kent.

I find these statistics quite concerning. This tells me that either Essex seems to be significantly underfunding its special schools, or Kent sends only much more needy pupils to special schools than Essex. I have asked the LA to clarify this latter point. In the mean time, the group resolved to ask the special school representatives on Schools Forum for a needs costed approach, which could then be compared with both Essex and Kent’s funding model, and also to see whether it is Essex or Kent who is the outlier in funding of special schools.

Deprivation Funding

Readers of this blog will remember that I have been concerned about moving primary deprivation funding from IDACI to FSM during the year in which universal KS1 FSM have been introduced, as this introduction could cause a significant shift in school data that has nothing to do with deprivation. I had asked the LA to produce figures for FSM takeup, to see whether the introduction of universal FSM has changed this: the short answer is that is hasn’t in any noticeable way. After a considerable discussion, the group agreed to make only one change this year: that IDACI funding weightings will be redistributed in the way I proposed in the past. I believe this is a principled change, based on the meaning of IDACI indices. In practice it will lead to a slight redistribution of income towards both the high and the low-but-nonzero deprivation indices, away from the over-concentration in mid deprivation we see in the current funding formula. But it will not have a big impact on any school.

English as an Additional Language

The DfE allows LAs to fund EAL for between zero and three years. Essex has funded EAL for two years for the last couple of financial years. It was initially felt that three years was too spread, and short, sharp interventions with new arrivals struggling with English were required. The group agreed to explore the further consolidation into a single year of funding (with no reduction in funding) for 16/17, so that more of an impact could be made with this funding. In addition, there has been a modest growth in the number of registered EAL children in Essex while the total EAL budget has remained constant, and the group asked the LA to model the impact of growing the EAL budget in line with this increase.

Schools Forum: February 2015 Meeting

Just a quick report from the February 2015 meeting of Schools Forum. I note that Chris Kiernan has started circulating a newsletter of Schools Forum news to schools, so I will try to keep the overlap with these updates minimal.

The “Spend to Save” proposals for SEN provision came back to Schools Forum and were approved on the basis of a more thorough costing and a shift in apportionment of costs between sectors to equalise overall proportionate reduction between primary and secondary. While I think that for fairness, it would make more sense to equalise proportionate AWPU reduction, this still seems to be a plausible way forward, and amounts to a 0.23% reduction in funding in the short term, in order to recoup greater savings in the long term.

We had a presentation on the new School Effectiveness Plus software solution for school improvement. For those schools who are already subscribers to Target Tracker, the major innovation seems to be a way that schools can construct a structured SEF and use it to identify partner schools with complementary strengths.

I was misquoted in the draft minutes of the last meeting regarding election procedures to Schools Forum: what I actually suggested was that if there are n schools forum places then each school should have n votes, unlike recently where there were three governor vacancies but schools were only given one vote each. This principle was accepted.

I noted that the LA has not yet circulated the updated wording of the Scheme for Financing Schools that moves from a flat rate school contribution to capital expenditure to one based on pupil numbers, as previously agreed. I was told this will be circulated shortly.

Schools Forum agreed a significant increase in LA contribution to the funding of EPHA and ESSHA, from £10k to £55k per annum, which should hopefully help to give primary heads in Essex a stronger and more organised voice.

February Schools Forum: Agenda

The agenda for the February 2015 meeting of Essex Schools Forum is below. If schools have particular concerns or points they would like to raise, please comment here or send me an email. Many thanks!

Colour Author Voting / Relevance
1. Apologies for Absence (and substitute notices) Chair

Discussion/Decision Papers

2. ‘Spend to Save’ Proposals for More In-County Provision for SEN Pupils Blue Chris Kiernan All Schools
3. Early Years & Childcare Update Green Stav Yiannou All Schools
4. Funding for Headteacher Associations Yellow Chris Kiernan All Schools
5. Growth Fund 2015/16 Lilac Graham Ranby All Schools
6. PFI Affordability Gap 2015/16 Peach Aidan Randall All Schools
7. DSG Budget 2015/16 Pink Yannick Stupples-Whyley All Schools

Confidential Discussion / Decision Papers

8. [redacted]

Forum Business

9. Any other business and feedback from schools through Associations

Feedback from Schools Forum representatives on other Bodies

Minutes of SEN Sub Group


Chair All schools
10. Minutes of 3 December 2014 White Chair All schools

Information Papers:

11. School Effectiveness Plus (Presentation) Alison Fiala & Liam Donnison All Schools
12. Third Quarter Budget Update 2015/16 Yellow Yannick Stupples-Whyley All Schools
13. Finance Review Group Update Lilac Yannick Stupples-Whyley All Schools
14. Pupil Premium Funding Peach Yannick Stupples-Whyley All Schools
15. External Funding Opportunities and Annual Report Pink Yannick Stupples-Whyley All Schools
16. Forward Plan Blue Yannick Stupples-Whyley All Schools
17. Election of Chair and Vice-Chair Yannick Stupples-Whyley
18. Closing Comments

Finance Review Group – January 2015 Meeting

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.

Special Schools

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

Deprivation Funding

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.

Pupil Mobility

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.

Report from Schools Forum December 2014

Just a brief report from today’s Schools Forum meeting. I think the main areas of interest for readers of this blog will be:

  • “Spend to Save” proposals for more in-county provision for SEN pupils
    I again raised the disproportionate level of funding requirement falling on primary schools for this project, projected at 0.78% reduction in AWPU for primaries compared to 0.52% to 0.54% for secondaries. I was promised that this will discussed in depth when budgeting to take forward the project in the new year.
  • Scheme for Financing Schools
    I raised my concern that the county scheme for financing schools applies a de minimis level of £10k for capital expenditure, rather than a rate proportional to school size. I was told that this had been previously discussed and the intention was to have a per pupil rate rather than a flat rate; this will be corrected and circulated to Forum.
  • Significant Increase in Pupil Numbers Contingency
    I was misquoted in the minutes of the last Schools Forum as wondering whether the bar for accessing this contingencies in secondaries should be raised. What I actually said was that primaries should not be put at a disadvantage in accessing this contingency (currently large primaries need to have more pupils join in year than secondaries before they can access the funding). This matter has been rolled over to the next meeting in the new year.

Other minor issues of interest:

  • Amended ToRs mean that governing bodies (rather than schools) will now vote for governor representatives on Forum. I asked that the election regulations be amended so that if there are multiple vacancies, then each school/GB gets a number of votes equal to the number of vacancies. This was agreed.

Schools Forum December 2014

The next meeting of Schools Forum will be on Wednesday. The agenda is included below – please feel free to contact me or comment if you have particular points you’d like me to raise.

Discussion/Decision Papers

2. Early Years & Childcare Update Blue Stav Yiannou All Schools
3. ‘Spend to Save’ Proposals for More In-County Provision for SEN Pupils Green Chris Kiernan All Schools
4. Enhanced Provision for Pupils with Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs in Mainstream Primary Schools Yellow Ralph Holloway All Schools
5. Constitution and Membership of Schools Forum Lilac Yannick Stupples-Whyley All Schools
6. Schools Broadband Budget 2015/16 Peach Tracey Kelsbie All schools
7. Scheme for Financing Schools Pink Yannick Stupples-Whyley Maintained Schools
8. High Needs Block Update Blue Yannick Stupples-Whyley All Schools

Forum Business

9. Any other business and feedback from schools through Associations

Feedback from Schools Forum representatives on other Bodies

Minutes of SEN Sub Group


Chair All schools
10. Minutes of 22 October 2014 White Chair All schools

Information Papers:

11. Audit of all Placements of Pupils into Independent Schools, 2013/14 Academic Year Yellow Liz Cornish / Elaine White All Schools
12. LA Benchmarking Lilac Yannick Stupples-Whyley All Schools
13. External Funding Opportunities Peach Yannick Stupples-Whyley All Schools
14. Forward Plan Pink Yannick Stupples-Whyley All Schools
15. Closing Comments Chair

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