Over the last few weeks all my conversations with colleagues and ASCL members seem to have included the words, “but that might change in the spending review.” So, now that we know what the government has in store for education over the next five years, the question now is, “what has changed and what can we do to influence the future?”
I welcome the commitment to a national funding formula for schools; it has been consigned to the ‘too difficult drawer’ for far too long. Although we started this marathon journey a long time ago, in many ways I think we are actually only just lined up on the starting blocks.
ASCL has been campaigning for a fair funding formula for more than 20 years and it is disappointing to note the previous government didn’t seize the opportunity to tackle this when budgets were on the increase. It is a much more difficult exercise to do when budgets are tight, however, it is good to know we have been listened to and ASCL is looking forward to working even more closely with government during the consultation on fair funding in January 2016.
Our argument will always be for a formula for distribution that enables equality of opportunity for every child in this country, but the call for equity must not detract from the need for sufficiency. Only if these two are carefully combined will the formula be sustainable and enable our education system – and most importantly the young people who are in it – to flourish and reach their potential.
We were expecting pupil premium funding to be protected, but the chancellor’s statement did not clarify exactly how the funding will be used over the next five years.
A positive step for sixth form colleges is they can now join a MAT and claim back VAT on their non-business expenditure. This is likely to represent a saving of around 3.5 per cent on the bottom line. It’s a relief that the base rate per student for 16-19 year olds has been protected, but this won’t be enough to halt the reduction in courses that schools and colleges are able to provide.
It is not good news about the Education Services Grant (ESG). This grant provides academies with funds to purchase the services that the LA provides for maintained schools. The ESG was the subject of significant cuts in a previous spending review, but the suggestion that it will disappear altogether over the next 5 years is a grave concern. Is it possible that what remains of the ESG grant after this round of cuts will become part of the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG)? If the government is pushing forward on phasing out LA statutory duties, and therefore reducing their role in the running of a school, could this be what they are thinking about? Nevertheless, at a time when unfunded cost increases are crippling school budgets the concept of cutting the ESG will fill school leaders with fear.
The chancellor’s statement indicates that the national funding formula, which will include high needs and early years, will be implemented in 2017-18. It’s encouraging to have a date to focus on, but part of the consultation process will need to carefully consider the period of transition required for full implementation. I can completely understand that your views on this will be polarised according to which local authority’s borders your school finds itself in. In very poorly funded areas full implementation in 2017-18 would be too long to wait. In areas where the fear will be a possible reduction in per pupil funding, you will be hoping for a long transition period – probably longer than the three years which I think is quite likely. So, this is the really difficult bit and probably why we are only just on the starting blocks now.
On the other hand, reacting to change is one of the things we do best in education and ASCL is ready to support you through the turbulent times ahead. An informed and creatively designed strategic financial plan will be essential. ASCL will work closely with government to ensure that the modelling for the period of transition that precedes full implementation of formula proposals is robust and supportive of the full range of pre-16 institutions across all regions.
Not all good news by any stretch of the imagination, but more clarity in some areas and the opportunity to influence the future.