School funding: end of postcode rationale not enough?
Ahead of calling for a “national fair funding formula” later this week, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has criticised current school funding inconsistencies in the UK, placing the chief bulk of the blame on what it calls an “outdated” and “historic grant system that does not work”.
Figures produced by the ASCL, which represents over 18,000 secondary school and college leaders, claim that in 2015-16, schools in the ten best-funded areas in the UK are due to receive on average £6,297 per pupil, compared with £4,208 per pupil in the ten most poorly funded areas.
In the context of an ordinary secondary school of 920 pupils, this results in an overall budget deficit of £1.9 million between schools in highly funded areas and those in poorly funded areas, a figure, the ASCL estimates, is enough to pay the total cost of 40 full-time teachers.
Deputy general secretary of the ASCL Malcolm Trobe likened the current system to a “postcode lottery,” founded upon flawed distribution methods introduced during the 1980s, which subsequent governments have failed to sufficiently reform, leading to sustained inconsistencies.
According to Trobe: “30 years ago government grants were allocated to local authorities according to the amount they had traditionally spent on education. This means that funding inequalities which existed then were enshrined in the system and this has been a continuing problem ever since, resulting in inconsistencies across the country.”
In response to the ASCL’s analysis, a spokeswoman for the Department for Education (DfE) said the government had “committed to introducing a national funding formula after the next spending review,” adding, “we have put an extra £390 million into the schools budget for 2015-16 to increase the per-pupil budgets of the 69 least fairly funded areas. This will, for the first time, mean a minimum level of funding for councils based on the characteristics of their pupils and schools, and is the biggest step towards fairer funding in a decade”.
In March of last year, the DfE revealed plans to boost the schools budget by an extra £350 million, as well as introducing new, more stringent methods of determining pupil funding. At the time, Trobe welcomed the announcement, describing it as “a useful step towards a national fair funding formula”.
He added, however, that most of the money would be channelled towards staff pensions and teacher salaries instead of pupils, which he believed would have a “catastrophic effect and lead to larger class sizes and reduced curriculum choice”.
A slightly augmented cash injection of £390 million is therefore unlikely to satisfy the ASCL, who may well continue to call for a more comprehensive upheaval of the funding system. And with the number of pupils entering secondary education set to rise in some areas within the next five years, school and college leaders will surely continue to argue their case for a fairer funding system which, despite the government’s insistences, is still far from perfect.