Having expressed concerns to my local MP over school funding, he was keen to point out that, ‘school funding totals over £40bn, which is the highest on record.’ In further correspondence regarding this issue from the Rt Hon Nick Gibb (Minister for Schools), he too was keen to illustrate the same point, ‘This year, it [school Funding] is the largest on record, totalling almost £41bn. This is set to increase to £42bn by 2019-20.’ This all sounds great and sounds very positive for schools, implying that school budgets are not only the highest they have ever been, but they are also rising.
As a head teacher, this argument doesn’t really concur with my own school’s budget issues. I believe these ‘roll off the tongue’ phrases have become ingrained with the government’s mantra and are regurgitated anytime anyone challenges the government regarding schools’ funding.
I, therefore, have explored my own school’s funding to establish a true reflection of school funding. Having pulled files from the archives in school I examined the annual budgets carefully. Coming up with a method to explore funding over time wasn’t straight forward.
To explore the total annual budget and compare this over time year on year, is problematic. It is linked to pupil numbers, so either a rise or a fall in pupils will impact on the total sum of money given to the school.
The most simplistic measure was to explore the basic entitlement. All school budgets have a basic entitlement aged weight pupil unit (AWPU) – this is the minimum funding each child will receive. Looking at this figure is a good overall indicator of school budget trends as it shows the minimum funding over time. Figures from primary schools across Cumbria illustrate the AWPU amounts awarded per pupil in the table below.
Table A – AWPU funding for Cumbrian primary schools 2013-2018.
To look at this data in isolation, it is clear school core funding per pupil is decreasing over time. However, I believe it is disingenuous to use this methodology to scrutinise funding. This method is too simplistic as it omits other factors.
School budgets are complex and remind me of mobile phone contracts. Customers are offered a core contract and can ‘bolt on’ additional extras, such as additional texts, minutes and data packages. School budgets work very similarly. Schools are given the basic pupil entitlement (AWPU) and receive additional funding which applies for all pupils. These additional extras are the lump sum (currently £75,000 for every primary school in Cumbria); deprivation factor; children who are looked after; low-cost high incidents of SEN; English as an additional language; sparsity; rates; rents. All these figures combined give a total amount for the school’s block of funding.
Hopefully, you are still with me… Not long till the end… I know it’s dry.
If we combine these additional funding streams, and then divide it across all the pupils on roll for that year, we can see how this extra money added to the AWPU can reflect a clearer picture of school funding per pupil. This is illustrated in the table below to show funding per pupil over the last five years.
TABLE B. Schools Block Funding distributed per pupil.
Table B Illustrates whole school funding over a five-year period. The column marked other, is always variable depending on current pupil demographic and can fluctuate in any school year to year. The column marked Total funding per pupil is a true reflection of minimum total funding allocated per pupil. Although there is a slight variation year to year, both positive and negative. On the whole largely the same amount of funding year to year with a five-year variation of +£3.48 per pupil.
People who work in schools will undoubtedly say, ‘the pupil premium funding or the high needs funding is not included.’ This was not included in this comparison as this funding is not for the whole school as it is attached to individual pupils. As these pupils enter and leave school year on year and it would clearly skew the data. Therefore, by not including these streams it gives an accurate reflection of the true money per pupil.
If funding is static, as is indicated by the data, then the National Audit Office suggests that schools will be facing real terms cut to funding by 8% to counteract cumulative cost pressures, such as pay rises and higher employer contributions to national insurance and the teachers’ pension scheme.
To balance this, against the rhetoric ministers spin regarding school funding is nothing more than the political spin that is misguiding the public.
The real truth is that funding is at record levels and increasing just to cope with the additional pupils in the school system (174,000 additional primary pupils and 284,000 additional secondary pupils).