School funding is not the most exciting topic but, obviously, the amount of money a school has is a crucial element in determining whether or not it can do its job properly. In the public mind, I imagine, the belief is that education has at least retained its funding under the Tories and has, perhaps, actually gone up. Look at the ‘pupil premium’, Coalition supporters will say. This admirable policy, proposed by the Liberal Democrats, gives a specific amount of money for every child on roll in receipt of free school meals (or who has, in fact, ever been eligible in the last six years). Schools have received tens even hundreds of thousands of pounds from the pupil premium and OFSTED is demanding to know when it visits, how this funding has been used to support the targeted students.
Sadly, at the same time as giving the headline-grabbing ‘pupil premium’, the government has been reforming school funding in a way that has taken much more from many schools’ budgets than has been gained. In pursuit of its ideological agenda, the government has put the emphasis far more on delegating funding to schools either directly from central government in the case of academies or free schools or from LAs for community schools. Local authorities can retain far less for centrally-provided services than before, making it even more likely that they will whither away unless they can persuade schools of any sort to ‘buy back’ those services. It has to be said that the old model of LA funding certainly needed reforming leading, as it did, to great anomalies and inequalities but, as is so typical of this government, it has used the excuse as an opportunity to change things to suit their ideology.
My ‘case study’, Grove Park Community School, is real – only the name has been changed to protect the innocent! They have lost around £50K from the so-called ‘Standards Fund’ which has disappeared and their annual maintenance budget has shrunk to £15K for the year, from over £100K in the past. Subsidies on services such as Connexions (careers advice), student counselling and behaviour support, have vanished, responsibility for independent careers advice having been ‘delegated’ to schools from April 2012. Work Experience, something which this government encourages for the unemployed and benefit claimants, cost Grove Park £7K last year, the cost of visiting and approving placements having again ‘devolved’ from the local authority to schools, along with the insurance costs. Some schools have just dropped it to save money.
Something called the Disadvantaged Fund used to yield Grove Park about £29K per annum but has now disappeared, subsumed into the Pupil Premium. Schools now have to pay the full costs of maternity leave, about £10K each time.
Changes in funding for pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN) has affected all schools. They now have to fund the first 9.5 hours support per week for any pupil, whatever the level of SEN, including students with statements. At Grove Park they have estimated this as costing £6K per pupil per year and it makes SEN students, especially those with a statement, very unattractive to schools who are likely to avoid taking them if they can.
It has to be said that schools are protected from more than a 1.5% reduction in the first instance. For Grove Park that would be £60K (or two teachers).
As the Headteacher told me, “There is no way the Pupil Premium off-sets the cuts suffered by LAs which have been passed on to us. If it did we wouldn’t need to keep cutting services and classing ‘necessities’ as unaffordable ‘luxuries’.”