School funding: my little extras by Brian Herbert

School Funding: My Little Extras by Brian Herbert

Plenty has been written about the Chancellor’s misguided idea that schools need to be ‘topped up’ to buy ‘little extras’ and, rightly so, his statement was derided throughout the sector. But this got me thinking about the bigger picture.

The ‘new’ National Funding Formula will be fully operational within the next year or so, but has the effect of this really been thought through. Disadvantaged pupils and the funding that they attract is still top of the agenda, and I’m sure the monies received are effectively used and utilised, but do these schools actually need to be remunerated to a higher degree?

It seems that FSM or the IDACI index are the staple ‘go to’ whenever any new money becomes available. This has led, and I know because I see it within the schools that I deal with, to some being seemingly awash with money and buying some fanciful new equipment or investing in the latest technology that lesser schools can only dream of. Does this really enhance the provision to the extent that the ‘gap’ between PP children is closed more quickly?  I would argue the case that more money on top of already generous funding, compared with less disadvantaged schools, is misplaced.

The rest are left with the crumbs, fighting to find funds for basic equipment while some are sitting on a pile of money and have no idea what to buy next. So, how do we change this and give other schools the chance to compete?

Local Authorities changed their formula a few years ago, taking out many considerations that helped distribute funding a little more fairly. There needs to be a mechanism that caps how much money is allocated through the FSM and IDACI route, and the wider picture needs to be considered.

Often small schools in less disadvantaged areas can only operate successfully when staff, and this includes the headteacher, take on multiple unpaid roles to balance the budget. Is it right that a head of one of these schools can’t afford to employ a site agent, thus becoming a jack of all trades. Or a teacher doubling up as a MDSA to cover the lunchtime chaos that ensues once the bell goes. I would argue, and I have many times, that this can’t be right. That the balance sheet looks fine, but under the surface schools are being propped up by the goodwill and commitment of its staff.

I expect the larger disadvantaged schools will be choking into their cornflakes reading this, and there will be some that feel they still don’t get enough funding, but the stark reality is that unless your school is in an impoverished area your funding is unlikely to see any increase under the NFF. I’m no betting man but I would hang my hat on many less disadvantaged schools seeing a decrease in their budget allocation, and some of the larger disadvantaged schools once again receiving more money than they know what to do with! 

Back to the Chancellor… £10k will provide around 100 new LED lights for the school which in turn will start to decrease the huge electricity bill that we all pay for. So as the proverb goes, “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”.