Still waiting…

It’s hard to believe that we are still waiting for the Stage 2 consultation on the Schools and High Needs National Funding Formula (NFF). After Brexit and the changes in leadership in Number 10 and the DfE, it seems as if there are other priorities on the government’s mind. The rumour now is that the consultation will appear around the time of the Autumn Statement on 23rd November.

So we are back to the likelihood of a(nother) rushed consultation which encompasses the school holidays. You’d think a Department that runs schools would think about term dates, wouldn’t you?

I’m wondering if the delay has partly been because of political difficulties, as various MPs have realised that some of their schools could lose out and have made representations to the Minister. Deputations of head teachers from Tory-controlled LAs have been taking their concerns to Downing Street and Sanctuary Buildings.

If we were being optimistic, we might speculate that the delay has been due to negotiations about whether the Chancellor could find some more money. Taking funding away from schools that have been spending it to meet the needs of their pupils, in order to give it to others that need more, is really not the ideal situation to be in.

I’m also waiting for the government to realise what it will feel like when it introduces direct funding of schools from the centre.  The announcement of the delay to 2018/19 didn’t mention whether this was also being delayed a year, or whether it was still planned for 2019/20 (which would get it sorted before the General Election). It’s not difficult to imagine what will happen: half the schools in the country will be marching to Sanctuary Buildings complaining about their budgets being cut, and the other half will be complaining that their increase is not enough.

Local authorities take all the heat at the moment – something DfE clearly recognised in the first consultation when they suggested LAs might be able to impose a worse Minimum Funding Guarantee if they had difficulty balancing the local formula in the interim period leading up to direct funding. LAs won’t be giving many thanks to DfE for that poisoned chalice.

School Cuts website

In the face of all this uncertainty, it’s no wonder, then, that NUT and ATL developed the School Cuts website at www.schoolcuts.org.uk, which shows their estimates of the impact of an NFF on every school in the country. Rather controversially, it shows the potential number of teaching posts that each school could lose. I understand the frustration that has led to this, but I’m wondering if it was wise to publish it without clear health warnings, since there is no publicly available information about what the NFF values will be.

Head over to my latest blog at https://schoolfinancialsuccess.com/school-cuts-alarmist-or-realist/ to see my analysis of the School Cuts information.

Support for schools

If you are a school that is fearful of what might happen with the NFF, take a look at the ebook I’ve produced with my friend and co-founder of School Financial Success, Nikola Flint at https://schoolfinancialsuccess.com/books/. This is based on the reality that if schools wait until final values are known for the NFF (December 2017, based on October 2017 census data), it could be too late.

‘A Helping Hand to Secure a Sustainable Budget’ is not just a book, but a complete set of tools to help schools produce best, middle and worst case scenarios for future funding over five years, based on a worst case scenario of the Minimum Funding Guarantee. It provides a step-by-step process to produce a Financial Sustainability Plan, to start the debate with staff and governors about how you can respond to potential funding reductions.

Our School Financial Success website includes more regular blogs exploring various aspects of school funding and finances, and gives the opportunity to sign up for a free fortnightly newsletter of news and views about school funding. Sign up on our home page at www.schoolfinancialsuccess.com.

Conference appearances

I’ll be speaking at several conferences between December and March, starting with a workshop at the National Fair Funding Conference in Liverpool on December 13th, on Supporting Schools in Financial Difficulty. Hope to see some of you there.

 

twitterlinkedin

National Funding Formula Delayed until 2018/19

After a lot of waiting, and tumultuous political events after the EU Referendum, at last we now know the lie of the land in relation to school funding. But even this involved a curious sequence of events.

On Tuesday 19th July, Edward Timpson provided a written answer to a Parliamentary Question about the timing of the National Funding Formula (NFF). His answer seemed clear enough:

‘We received a high number of responses to the first stage of our consultation on the principles and building blocks of the schools national funding formula. Those will inform our detailed proposals for the design of the formula, which we will put forward later this year. We must allow appropriate time to consider what would be significant reforms, and we remain committed to introducing the formula from 2017-18 so that schools can start to benefit from fairer funding as soon as possible.’

That left many of us scratching our heads as to exactly how this was achievable, given that many schools had already closed for the summer and therefore couldn’t contribute to draft responses from Schools Forums. For a department that runs schools, it’s strange that DfE often seems to forget about school holidays.

Considering the time it’s taken DfE to analyse the first stage responses (amid a change of ministers and the raiding of departments to find civil servants for the Brexit team), hitting the deadline for consulting on draft regulations in October seemed well-nigh impossible. We reasoned that the political pressure from under-funded schools must have won out, and that the consultation would have to be short.

Well, the timescales did prove impossible; the new Secretary of State Justine Greening announced on Thursday 21st July that the NFF would indeed be delayed to 2018/19.

http://schoolsweek.co.uk/national-funding-formula-delayed-to-2018/

Justine Greening

Ms Greening told the House that information on the government’s proposals for Early Years will be announced shortly (‘shortly’ being a rather stretchy term often used by DfE). The second consultation on the Schools and High Needs Blocks will be published when Parliament returns in September, along with an analysis of responses to the first consultation.

The delay means that the government will have time to run a twelve-week consultation period, in line with the usual recommended practice. This is in contrast to the first consultation, which only ran for six weeks, including two weeks over the Easter holidays. A longer timescale is a good thing, since the next set of documents are expected to be much more detailed, involving modelling of the NFF using illustrative factor values to show the potential impact on local authorities and schools.

It is important to note that the values published in the second consultation cannot be regarded as meaningful, because the final allocations for 2018/19 will depend on the data in the October 2017 census. The most likely approach is for DfE to run a test as if the exemplar values had been in place in 2016/17, which means using October 2015 data. You can see why it won’t be accurate, but it should give a flavour of the direction of travel.

The Secretary of State confirmed that final decisions will be taken early in 2017, allowing a full year for local authorities to prepare for the changes. We don’t see how values can be known this far in advance though, unless DfE holds a reserve to handle the data changes in the October census data between 2016 and 2017. They may not be prepared to take that risk.

The delay is being greeted with dismay from those who have lobbied for the changes on behalf of the lowest-funded areas. There is general concern too, because it prolongs the uncertainty for everyone. Five unions have joined together to urge the government to find extra money for schools who are under-funded, to prevent large-scale redundancies in the short term.

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/unions-issue-urgent-call-more-school-funding

It is to be hoped that the delay provides some opportunity for the case for extra funding to be fully explored. However, no-one knows what the economic impact of the decision to leave the EU will be. Therefore we can’t rely on the new Chancellor waving a magic wand to avoid the unpleasant situation of taking money away from some children/schools to give it to others when the NFF is implemented.

The position for 2017/18 school budgets

Justine Greening recognised that LAs need time to prepare for the 2017/18 round of school budget setting. She announced:

‘I am confirming that in 2017-18 no local authority will see a reduction from their 2016-17 funding (adjusted to reflect authorities’ most recent spending patterns) on the schools block of the dedicated schools grant (per pupil funding) or the high needs block (cash amount).’

She also confirmed that the Minimum Funding Guarantee, which protects schools by setting a limit on how far their funding can fall from the previous year, would remain at -1.5% per pupil in 2017/18.

Local authorities and Schools Forums now need to consider how to treat the 2017/18 formula. Should they simply roll forward the existing formula in response to data changes in the October 2016 census? Or would it be desirable to smooth the transition to a NFF by making some tentative changes based on the information in the second consultation?

The big question is whether the timescale for direct funding by DfE will remain at 2019/20, as outlined in the first consultation. The two options are as follows.

a) The whole timescale slips by a year:

  • 2018/19 and 2019/20: The NFF is used to calculate LA DSG allocations and LAs run a local formula to distribute the Schools Budget (‘soft formula’);
  • 2020/21: DfE funds schools directly using the NFF.

b) The timetable for direct funding by DfE stays the same:

  • 2018/19: LAs run a local formula as above, but for one year only;
  • 2019/20: DfE funds schools directly using the NFF

One clue could be in the consultation on recoupment of funding for free schools, which was published on 21st July, the same day as the announcement on the NFF delay. The consultation document notes:

‘We will revisit how recoupment would be managed under the proposed ‘hard’ national funding formula (from 2019 onwards), when schools’ core funding is set by a national formula, in due course.’

Is this an oversight, a previously-written document that wasn’t amended for the announcement? Or does the government still intend to move to the ‘hard’ formula in 2019/20?

Politically, scenario b) above seems more likely, as Ministers will want to be able to achieve their policy aim before the end of this Parliament. However, this is only achievable if the current government doesn’t have to call an early election. There are so many uncertainties; we will just have to wait until the second consultation is published to find out which scenario the government is planning.

A sting in the tail for LA schools

The school funding operational guidance for 2017/18 has also now been published. One aspect, which wasn’t given much emphasis in the first NFF consultation, relates to the Education Services Grant (ESG).

This grant is currently in two parts:

  • Retained duties ESG – paid to LAs for functions that they undertake for all schools and academies in their area. It includes having a Director of Children’s Services, undertaking strategic planning for the education service, planning school places, and other statutory duties that are focused on children, no matter what type of school they attend.
  • General ESG – paid to LAs for functions undertaken for their own schools, and paid directly to academies for the same functions that they carry out themselves. We already know that this element is going to be cut, LAs losing all of it from September 2017 and academies having a phased reduction up to 2020.

At present, the total ESG paid to a local authority is non-ring fenced, meaning it can be spent on services other than education.

The first NFF consultation stated that the retained duties element would be transferred into DSG. It also indicated that DfE was considering whether some of the general ESG duties could be done away with. However, there was recognition that if some duties had to remain, LAs had to have some funding. So views were invited on whether LAs should be allowed to hold back some funding from DSG for functions delivered to their own schools.

A document was published on Thursday to define LAs’ current spending patterns, as a baseline for 2017/18. It stated that the retained duties ESG of £117m will be transferred into DSG from 2017/18, despite the delay in the NFF.

The new 2017/18 operational guidance now confirms that LAs will be able to withhold funding from LA maintained schools, in order to replace the lost general ESG from September 2017. The Schools Forum has to agree, but if there is a dispute, the matter will be referred to the Secretary of State for a decision. The deduction will be done after the budget share is calculated, in the same way as de-delegation currently operates.

The change will allow DfE to make a saving by cutting the grant, but it will cause a pressure for LA schools. It also means that LA schools, who haven’t had the grant in the first place, will see a reduction in their budgets from September 2017, whereas academies will continue to receive protection against significant reductions in their grant until it ceases completely in 2020.

The provisional General ESG allocations to LAs in 2016/17 totalled £389.9m. This was based on the following per pupil values:

Mainstream schools:         £77.00

Special schools:                £327.25

Pupil Referral Units:       £288.75

For a 350-place primary school this represents a pressure of around £27,000 and for a 900-place secondary school, £69,300. But the charges might not be at this level in 2017/18. DfE is considering which functions should be included; the first consultation asked for suggestions as to which duties could be removed. The 2017/18 deductions will also be for seven months rather than a full year.

So, we know a little more, but there is still so much to be decided. Watch out for information and analysis through this blog as further developments occur. You can sign up for a regular newsletter with all the current news on school funding at my other site which is a joint enterprise with Nikola Flint, who is a secondary school Director of Resources: www.schoolfinancialsuccess.com.

twitterlinkedin

School Financial Success

I haven’t been active on here for a while – apologies for that. I’ve been pretty busy working with a colleague Nikola Flint, who’s a Director of Resources in a large secondary school, to set up School Financial Success. It’s a joint venture we’ve set up, to provide support, advice and guidance on school funding to current and aspiring school leaders, including headteachers, senior and middle leaders, SBMs, and governors. From now on I will share some of the posts from our School Financial Success website on here as well as providing some separate commentaries from the local authority perspective.

The issue that has been exercising me lately is why school funding has such a low profile in leadership qualifications and training. Too often, when someone takes up their first headship, they haven’t had a thorough preparation for taking responsibility for a multi-million pound budget. I was doing some training today on medium term financial planning and none of the headteachers in the room felt they had had appropriate training and support to help them take on that responsibility. If heads don’t feel confident, they are less likely to involve and educate middle leaders to prepare them for headship.

The picture that is painted is of a haphazard sort of induction, of headteachers learning to manage the school’s finances on the job, trying to juggle the budget along with all the other pressures of improving results, surviving Ofsted, keeping children safe, developing staff, and a hundred and one other expectations. What’s worse is that today’s headteachers are facing a period of potential reductions in resources, or at the very least needing to somehow absorb unfunded cost pressures. Many of them won’t have experienced this before. Strategic financial leadership will be an important role, needing particular skills.

Strategic financial leadership is about creating a vision for how the resources available to your school will be used to achieve your aims in the longer term, and implementing that vision in a way that creates the conditions for sustainable improvement. It’s important to link your budget plans with school improvement, curriculum, and staffing plans, as a suite of planning documents, forming a blueprint to drive the school forward.

It also involves coordinating all the strands of value for money, eliminating waste, maximising efficiency and ensuring that spending is targeted on the activities that have the greatest impact on outcomes.

This is not just about how much money you get; it’s about what you do with it. A school can have outstanding results, but if they are built on small class sizes and high teaching costs that are causing a massive overspend, it is extremely unlikely that standards can be sustained in the long term. At some point a recovery plan has to be put into action, and spending will have to be reduced to a sustainable level.

But the financial aspect of leadership isn’t the sole preserve of the headteacher. It needs a team effort across the whole school, each playing their part to create a unified approach, moving in the same direction.

The difficulty in trying to achieve this sort of coordinated planning is the lack of information. It’s a long time since we had multi-year funding allocations, and the uncertainty over the National Funding Formula (NFF) is causing real concern. Understandably, heads feel out of control.

As we wait for news of whether the new Secretary of State will press the button on the second consultation on the National Funding Formula (not that she has much time to do it, certainly not if there’s any wish to get responses from schools), we’ve published our eBook and online course, Secure a Sustainable Budget. We aim to show schools how to develop a range of potential funding scenarios to stimulate a debate with staff and governors about how they would achieve budget savings if funding were reduced. This will help schools feel that they can regain a measure of control.

The eBook comes with a comprehensive set of tools to help you construct funding scenarios based on a best, middle and worst case picture of your per pupil funding and roll projections. The basis of the methodology is that the Minimum Funding Guarantee (MFG) calculation can be used to identify the lowest possible per pupil funding that you can receive.

We provide a tool to calculate the affordable level of teaching staff, and templates to produce a Financial Sustainability Plan over a five-year period; the tools form a set of appendices to the plan. . As more information becomes available, you can amend various elements within the suite of tools – it’s a dynamic process.

You can find out more at www.schoolfinancialsuccess.com, and by clicking on the Feature Book image and clicking View Details on the book page, you can download the first part of the book to see what it contains. It’s on a special introductory offer until 30th September.

I’d like to know what topics you are interested in from the world of school finance – please get in touch if you have any views.

twitterlinkedin

Waiting for the Second Consultation on the National Funding Formula

I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering when we will get the second consultation on the NFF (and the results of the first one).  Now the elections are over, we have a pretty small window before the next purdah for the EU referendum.  If it’s not released then, it will have to wait until after 23rd June, leaving very little time for Schools Forums and local authorities to compile a response before the summer break. Either way, a 12-week consultation seems unlikely. Then there’s the matter of the Early Years consultation – it is such a pity DfE couldn’t get their act together and give us a complete picture.

I’m also wondering exactly what information will be available. Did you notice the varying ways that the consultation papers described the next stage?

The NFF main document referred to balancing different factors, weightings, the primary/secondary ratio, the balance between basic entitlement and additional needs, pupil characteristics versus per-school factors, the national MFG and cap, and the impact of the formula on schools and LAs.

The main paper on High Needs funding arrangements stated that the second consultation will cover detailed factor weightings, the impact for LAs, transitional protection, the distribution of post-16 high needs funding including proxy indicators and how to recognise that some SEND would not be captured by any proxies.

However, the Case for Change document says something slightly different: ‘The second stage of the consultation will be the point at which we consult on the values attached to the formula factors and show the indicative impact on the funding of schools and local authorities.’

And the High Needs funding technical note also mentions ‘values and weightings for the various factors and adjustments, more detail on how the formula would work in practice and the impact, including the arrangements for transitional protection.’

I simply don’t see how values can be published at this stage, unless there has been a radical departure from the process of negotiating Departmental Expenditure Limits (DELs) and the Treasury has given DfE a settlement for the Schools Block already. Even then, they could be changed when the October 2016 census data is available.

I’m thinking the most likely scenario is for DfE to take the baseline returns for 2016/17 and rework them as if the NFF had been in place then. But this isn’t the same as providing values for 2017/18.

Does anyone know anything more?

twitterlinkedin

Five reasons to reply to the school funding consultation

Your school budget could be affected – have your say

Most people agree the current school funding system is unfair, especially those who see other schools, with a similar profile to theirs, getting more money simply because of historic decisions by the local authority they are in. The government has been trying to do something about this for some time.  Now they are tackling it – at a time of austerity, which makes it much more difficult.

DfE has published a consultation on the Schools and High Needs (SEND) proposals, with responses invited by 17th April. This doesn’t tell you the details of what will be in the new formula for school or High Needs budgets; a second stage consultation on that will be published later. This first stage is more about the principles and the structure of the new formula. Nor does it say anything about Early Years, which will be the subject of a separate consultation later this year.

Even if you only tick the Yes/No boxes, please respond to DfE with your views, as this could influence decisions in the next stage. If you would like a summary of the consultation content and some guidance on issues to consider when replying, click this link: Ask for your PDF Guide

The DfE response forms can be found at:

https://consult.education.gov.uk/funding-policy-unit/schools-national-funding-formula

and https://consult.education.gov.uk/funding-policy-unit/high-needs-funding-reform

So, why should you reply to the consultation? Here are five reasons.

Reason No. 1: It will change how much money your school receives

Because the government hasn’t provided a magic pot of money to bring all the schools that are currently underfunded up to the right level, it has to reduce budgets for schools that are Continue reading

twitterlinkedin

Fairer funding – when can we expect it?

What do we want? Fairer funding. When do we want it? Now!
So goes the cry from schools and areas that consider they are not currently funded fairly. At last the government has accepted it’s urgent. However, as I said in my previous post, you wouldn’t want to start from here; we have a complex historical system to unravel.

Will we ever reach a point where funding is agreed to be fairer? DfE would do well to add a note of caution in their communications about the length of time it might take to see much of a difference, given where we’re starting from.

As an example, consider the 2013/14 simplification of local formulae, which reduced the number of factors LAs could use. This caused a redistribution of funding, not between areas, but between schools within each LA. No extra funding was provided for the increases. However, schools losing funding were given Minimum Funding Guarantee protection, limiting losses to -1.5% per pupil per year.

In some areas there wasn’t enough money to cover the cost of protection while funding the increases. LAs were therefore allowed to reduce the extra funding that the gainers were entitled to, in order to balance to the available pot. To boil it down to its simplest form, let’s refer to this as capping.

In 2013/14, the first year of the simplified formula, on average 35% of schools in both sectors received Minimum Funding Guarantee protection. Two years later, 22% of primary schools and 19% of secondary schools are still being protected. In one LA, the figure is 95% of primary schools, and in four LAs, 100% of secondary schools. There don’t appear to be any published statistics on the extent to which gains are being capped to pay for these ongoing levels of protection.

The outcome of this balancing act isn’t even, nor is it predictable. The LA currently decides annually how much money goes into the different factors (e.g. primary per pupil compared to KS3/4, deprivation rates and so on). In future DfE will decide. This drives the total level of protection needed in an area, which in turn determines how many schools need to be capped. Over time, protection reduces, releasing the extra funding to the gainers.

The problem is that when there is no extra funding in the system, the need for protection slows down the journey to the new formula.

Given that the new formula is likely to involve a major redistribution of resources between LA areas, it is possible that a good number of LAs will see a majority of their schools requiring protection. The rate of change for gainers could be even slower than in the 2013/14 reforms, unless losses are implemented rapidly.

Predicting the pace of travel towards the pure formula for local schools will be tricky; if capping is calculated nationally, it will depend on the overall level of protection and the rate at which this decreases. DfE says there will be a transitional period, but we don’t yet know how long this will be, nor what it means in practice.

The key question is how much annual protection does DfE intend to give to those losing out from the new national formula?

This will be crucial in determining the speed at which extra money will get to the winning schools. I would expect the consultation to seek views on the sort of reduction that could be achieved without impacting adversely on standards, but naturally there are many different views on that.

The higher the protection, the longer it will take for the winners to see the extra money in their budget shares. So schools that believe they should gain substantially from the new formula may have a long wait. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out over the coming year.

twitterlinkedin

Defining ‘fair funding’ for schools

So far, DfE hasn’t provided a clear definition of what ‘fair funding’ for schools would look like, focusing instead on a deficit model: the obvious unfairness of significant differences in funding between similar schools. The Secretary of State cites two identical schools with a difference of over 50% in their funding. Have you found an identical school to yours and how do you compare?

We’ve been round this loop before, when there was extra money in the system. How much easier it would have been then, to give more to those who were not being provided for fairly. When you can only right a wrong by taking money away from another set of children, a shadow is cast over the process, setting school against school, and LA against LA. The cries of ‘unfair’ are likely to be amplified.

Given the challenges, perhaps it’s not surprising that Continue reading

twitterlinkedin

School funding reform: starter’s orders…

The Spending Review has confirmed the government’s commitment to overhaul the school funding formula. While we are waiting for further details about implementation, I will be sharing my thoughts on the key challenges for the government. My first two posts will explore the importance of DfE managing expectations in the following areas:

• The definition of ‘fair’, which affects who the winners and losers will be;
• The timescale for implementation, which determines how quickly gains and losses will flow through.

My next post will look at the first of these. Please let me know what you think are the important issues.

twitterlinkedin