In December and January, I made comment about the potential good news for Cornwall to get an overall increase of funding for schools. I did clarify the devil is always in the detail, and there would be no-doubt be winners and losers. There is no getting away from it, but historically, Cornwall has been one of the worse funded areas for education. Not just this current Government, but previous Governments too.
Whilst I welcome the additional £10m to Cornwall under the current proposals, this change does not address the historic differences between richest and poorest authorities. This is in part because one of the proposals in the new funding formula is to ensure no school nationally will face a per pupil funding drop of more than 3% – the same goes for Cornwall schools if there is any reduction in an individual school budget.
The best-funded authorities get around £9.5k per pupil even with a full 3% reduction they will still receive much more than the poorest authorities whose starting point is about £4.5k per pupil. Yes the gap, is slightly narrower, it is light-years away from being closed.
The Council, with the Schools’ Forum (who manage the Dedicated Schools Grant; the forum is populated by head-teachers from all sectors of education) have robustly commented on the Stage 1 Consultation by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and highlighted a number of issues with the proposals. The first issue is the EFA have not sufficiently clearly demonstrated the true impact on their proposed funding formula. Too many figures are being used without clearly identifying the elements included for comparison, potentially resulting in misleading comparisons being made.
Furthermore, against the Council’s and Schools Forum’s advice in response to part one of the consultations, the EFA are basing calculations to fund the children with greatest needs on Free School Meals take-up rather than on more sophisticated and more reliable deprivation measures. The EFA are also proposing to reduce the amounts allocated by IDACI bands (income deprivation affecting children index) so additional funding will be skewed in favour of the free school meal take-up. It is very important to note this is take-up of and not eligibility for.
The proposed funding model focuses very heavily on pupil led funding. The problem with this is that Secondary Schools currently still have to deal with reductions in school population. The protection mechanisms in the formula only protects the funding allocated to each child rather than the total amount of funding received by a school, so reducing pupil numbers results in reduced budgets. This fall in pupil population is set to be reversed in the next few years. So in effect, schools will receive more, but does not make it right due to the vast differences of AWPU between local authorities.
In a slightly ironic twist, small schools were very worried about their funding, but with the proposed lump sum allocations our very smallest schools will suddenly be considerably better off. Good news for small schools, not so good for larger.
The EFA consultation runs to the 22nd March. There is a stage two for this consultation and all concerns have been put into Cornwall Council official response to the second part of the consultation. This is currently in draft format and will be agreed with representatives of Cornwall Schools’ Forum before we submit it.
I have always been clear and fair that whilst I welcome the additional funding that will be allocated to Cornwall’s pupils, the review does not go far enough in redistributing resources to traditionally underfunded areas like Cornwall. I will add that I see no justification for the vast differences in AWPU between local authorities. Our schools in Cornwall can only dream of having almost double the amount of funding like other local council have. I just hope the EFA listens to the views of Schools’ Forum, the Council and head-teachers in making sure our schools are funded properly.
(this article is also featured in the West Briton etc).