Helen Merrills looks at what the spending review means for schools.
Perhaps the biggest controversy of Chancellor George Osborne’s autumn statement, at least for schools, was the announcement funding allocations will be replaced by a new national formula.
The current system, which can see pupils mere miles apart receive funding with differences of up to nearly 50 percent, is set to be reformed from 2017. The new funding initiative will set out a national framework that is a lot fairer.
However, the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates an eight percent fall in school spending per pupil as a result of the government trying to balance manifesto commitments with curbing costs and increasing pupil numbers. It would appear that there is little leeway in Mr Osborne’s balancing act to supplement under-funded schools to their more highly-funded counterparts. The cloud to the silver lining is that certain funding authorities will see money taken out of their pockets to plug the gap.
This notion of starting all over again by pooling funds to distribute them evenly seems reasonable in theory, but could be questionable in practice. Whilst schools in poorly funded areas are rejoicing, those who have made deliberate decisions in the past to invest more heavily in education are not so happy. Indeed, f40, The Campaign for Fairer Funding in Education, estimate that some of the better-funded authorities could see their schools grant cut by up to 15 percent.
Add this bombshell to the fact that Mr Osborne is trying to reclaim £600m from the Education Services Grant (ESG) by encouraging the eradication of local authorities, and the autumn review doesn’t seem so great after all.
There’s also more than an element of confusion when factoring in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. Where will the control and management of schools that aren’t academies or maintained sit? If centralised, surely this goes against the grain of proposed devolution plans, if the Bill is successful? If managed by individual cities and/or local governments, what’s the point in diminishing local authorities’ control of schools?
The answer to these questions? Academisation. Who manages what and where for state schools becomes a problem easily solved given that the government wants every school to be an academy or free school by 2020. Whilst no school will be forced, apart from those that are underperforming, it may be increasingly difficult for those not wanting to convert to maintain their position, especially with the pending shake-up to the ESG which will test School Managers’ budgetary skills even further.
The impact of the spending review for schools, therefore, is further reaching than cuts for some and more funding for others. It is, bit by bit, playing into the current government’s enthusiasm for educational reform.