Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Solid foundations

Hard Hat and Gloves

One of ASCL's key policy agenda areas this year has been fairer funding. Malcolm Trobe shares what progress has been made in the last ten months.

In my first article for Leader last September, I outlined ASCL's public policy agenda - the areas on which we are pro-actively campaigning. As Council will be identifying the priorities for next year shortly, it is important to evaluate our progress on this year's agenda.

Removing the inequalities from the funding system has been a long-term objective and with further changes due in 2008 we have been very active in persuading the government to develop a system of 'fair funding for all'.

The Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) settlement for 2008-11 will give education a real-term increase in funding projected at 2.23 per cent per year. This is better than other government departments are likely to achieve, although below the current level of about 4 per cent. The next three years will therefore be far tighter for schools financially.

What is 'fair funding'?

ASCL officials, including myself, met with the Schools' Minister, Jim Knight, and senior representatives from the DfES, Treasury and LSC recently to put forward ASCL's case for moving to activity-led funding.

This would provide an appropriate base level of funding to educate all students, before additional factors such as deprivation, additional educational needs or area costs are built in.

At the moment there is a 'base line' figure for deprivation and authorities where the overall deprivation level is below this get no additional funding for additional educational need (AEN). However, if there are pockets of deprivation, in this type of authority the only way schools can get additional funding is to take it from the basic entitlement - effectively reducing funding to other schools.

This is clearly unfair. We are therefore campaigning for the baseline to be removed and for all authorities to be funded for their actual level of AEN.

With postcode data this is now achievable and ASCL has advocated a system that considers prior attainment, as happened with the Personalisation Standards Grant, along with an index such as the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD), which works at individual student post code level.

There is almost a universal dislike for the use of 'free school meals' as a proxy indicator for AEN and I am pleased to report that it finally looks to be on the way out.

Slow and steady

How do we move to a fairer system? Slowly! There will be little flexibility (or 'headroom' in DfES-speak) to enable changes to take place over the next three years. Our line is that unless we make a start down the road we will never get there!

The School Funding Spending Share (SFSS) model developed in 2003 was a reasonable attempt at a fairer system but it led to funding turbulence at school level. The DfES had not modelled the impact at school level and not built in a period of transitional support.

The subsequent knee jerk response was to go back to the 'add a little to what you had last year' approach, which does nothing to address the fundamental issue. ASCL is advocating a single formula based on an updated SFSS with appropriate transitional support. It may take a long time but at least we would end up with a fairer system.

Capital funding

One government funding policy we have been able to praise is the provision of capital funding to replace and refurbish our secondary schools. Not all has gone smoothly, however, and those involved in the early private finance initiative (PFI) projects, including our school at Malmesbury, have ended up with a number of 'legacy issues'.

We have expressed concerns that some of the lessons have not been learnt from the early projects and these same issues may emerge in Building Schools for the Future (BSF).

The association is now getting a very positive response to our concerns from the DfES. We are in discussions with the operational task force of PartnershipsUK on the legacy issues, and with Partnerships for Schools on BSF issues.

I am very keen that members keep us up to date on concerns over BSF and PFI so please let me know of any issues by email at malcolm.trobe@ascl.org.uk

Keeping informed

The best method of keeping everyone up to date on issues is through the email newsletter. I am pleased to say that the number of members now receiving the weekly update is well over 8,000.

If you are not on our system can I urge you to register through the website. We still get a number of 'bounce backs' when the email goes out so if you are not getting it please check that we have your current email address.

Malcolm Trobe is ASCL President

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