More power to schools forums
The role of schools forums will be strengthened and extended as changes come into effect.
SHA has welcomed the changes to schools forums that will come in effect in September. They will build on the good practice already apparent in many authorities.
At present schools forums are advisory with no statutory decision-making powers. In future they will have some limited decisions to make.
Currently, if an authority wishes to apply for exemption from a range of restrictions, it has to apply to the secretary of state for permission; the views of the local schools forum are taken into consideration when the decision is made.
In future, if the forum agrees with the local authority, the decision is made. If the schools forum disagrees, the local authority can still apply to the secretary of state for a final arbitration as before.
Changes to regulations
The original regulations governing the set up and operation of the schools forum left plenty of flexibility at the local level. Now that schools forums have limited decision-making powers, there needs to be some adjustments to the regulations.
The proposed changes to the regulations are likely to tighten up procedures on electing members of the forum, the status of observers and the role of both local authority officers and local councillors. The DfES will publish guidance on good practice that covers the regulations and advises on procedures and communications, two of the thorniest issues for schools forums.
At present, schools forums have to be consulted on changes to a local formula, some expenditure on special needs and centrally held contracts. Most forums discuss a range of other issues and some are very proactive in identifying areas of concern.
In a few cases it would seem that the local authorities put so many items on the agenda that there is scarcely any time to discuss key funding issues. Controlling and managing agendas is sure to be included in the good practice guidance.
Figure 1 shows the stages in the funding cycle where the forum needs to discuss the issues and may be asked to confirm a local authority proposal.
Expenditure in the schools budget for the children's agenda. Local authority funding is not quite as simple as the diagram suggests. As outlined in Every Child Matters, local authorities have been encouraged to see education as part of their wider responsibilities for children. Where the local authority wishes to run a joint project that is of value to schools, the schools forum will be asked to agree to proportionate expenditure in the schools budget.
The balance between the central expenditure and the individual schools budget. Not all expenditure on pupils is incurred in schools. Central expenditure includes pupil referral units and pupils with special needs educated outside of the authority. If the authority wishes to increase the central expenditure limit, it has to consult the schools forum.
Similarly, the local authority will need to get agreement for any proposals to vary the minimum funding guarantee or change the level of contingency held. If the local authority decides to put extra resources into the schools budget above the dedicated schools grant, these extra resources are not included in the calculation of balance between the ISB and central expenditure.
Changes to the local formula. When we have two-to-three year budgets, local authorities will have to plan changes to their formula over a corresponding cycle. They can implement changes during a cycle but must plan beforehand so that everyone can predict their budget reasonably accurately.
There may be occasions when there have to be late adjustments, and the schools forum will be asked if they consider these to be reasonable. Schools forums will also be consulted on the distribution of the teachers' pay grants, now coming through the core formula and not as a separate grant.
Further information and support
All of these changes will be discussed at a round of DfES conferences in September. Local authorities have been invited to send representatives, including at least one member of the schools forum. It is important that every schools forum is represented.
On the TeacherNet site there is a letter to forum chairs with an annex that lists all the powers, consultative duties and proposed changes to the regulations. See www.teachernet.gov.uk
SHA will be running a short course specifically for secondary schools forums members so please look out for information in the e-newsletter and on the website.
SHA's consultancy service also offers a half-day or full-day training package for the whole schools forum. Contact the SHA MAPS Office on 0116 299 1122.
By Lindsey Wharmby, SHA funding consultant
© 2017 Association of School and College Leaders