Wednesday, 19 July 2017

A (New) New Funding Formula

Education Secretary Justine Greening's recent announcement of £1.3bn in additional funding for schools in England has been welcomed, at times cautiously, by some, including Hampstead's own head (on national television no less), but has also faced criticism on the basis of it being drawn from within the Dept. for Education's budget, rather than from the Treasury.

Although many schools may feel at least slight relief at additional funding being on the cards, some have argued that the additional funding fails to keep up with rising staff costs, inflation, as well as increases in pupil numbers. While Greening asserted that secondary schools would receive at least £4,800 per pupil, it is not clear that there is a strictly linear relationship between pupil numbers and funding requirements. It is apparent that to provide an education for more pupils, a school would need more money, but to actually accommodate systematically (i.e. through the construction of new facilities etc.) for more pupils, schools could require exponentially more funding than the increase in the number of pupils they will experience. The £4,800 figure for core per-pupil funding will be an increase for a number of schools, but with regards to it actually being enough for schools to accommodate increasing pupil numbers and additional teaching staff, it is a very imprecise promise.

A significant source of criticism has concerned the more general vagueness surrounding the announced plans for funding, particularly with regards to where cuts (at times referred to as "efficiencies") will be made within the Department for Education's overall budget. Of the £1.3bn promised, £600m will be sourced from cuts to unspecified parts of the DoE's budget, £200m from the free schools budget, and an additional £420m from the capital buildings and repairs budget.

The idea of "fair funding", although sound in principle, at times appears to be more of a persistent catchphrase, rather than a considered belief. As long as school funding remains insufficient in wider terms, a contradiction remains in referring to "fair funding".

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, schools "probably won’t have to make much in the way of additional cuts but it’s important to say schools have already experienced very significant cuts already over the last two or three years". If these cuts are to be considered as a form of 'damage', then we might ask whether the recently announced cash injection is enough to reverse it.

We might also be compelled to inquire about the Head's flourishing TV career and just how people have been paid off, murdered, or kidnapped and imprisoned for the sake of satiating his megalomanic ego. At this rate, it appears he might actually be spending more time talking to news reporters than to his own pupils, although it is hard to imagine many pupils regretting that they don't have more bland conversations with a man who, time after time, has shown himself to be largely incapable of seeing very far beyond his own nose. During his latest foray onto the nation's screens, the Head remarked that while "the devil's in the details", referring to cuts to other parts of the education budget, "from a schools point of view this level of investment is welcome". While strictly speaking the Head's remarks were not "wrong", they added nothing to the wider conversation about the changes to school budgets, and his role in the broadcast was essentially that of a replaceable character, the Headteacher whose views, although specific to a single school, are supposed to be a fair representation of the views of thousands of other headteachers. By appearing for 30 seconds on TV, the Head worked not to offer another point of consideration for parents, students and the wider public, but instead worked to legitimize the establishment's take on the issue and increase his own public standing. In the spirit of fairness, it is worth acknowledging that editing lies in the hands of news broadcasters, and perhaps the Head did make a significant point (I sincerely doubt this however, especially given how stock at least some of what he said during the interview for the broadcast was), but it is equally worth acknowledging that people, especially those who have tangled with the media so many times before, should consider how their words, in conjunction with the position from which they say them, will be used to further certain narratives and agendas. Of course, when the lights shine and the camera swivels, none of that really matters.

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