Schools white paper dodges funding issue

24 Nov 10
The schools white paper has failed to set out the coalition's plans for school funding arrangements and the pupil premium

By David Williams

24 November 2010

Today’s schools white paper has failed to set out the coalition’s plans for school funding arrangements and the pupil premium.

The Department for Education had indicated last week that it was considering moving to a national funding formula that would transfer responsibility for school budgets from local authorities to school leaders. But today’s white paper, The importance of teaching, focuses on teaching and discipline standards, educational attainment and changes to the curriculum.

It makes no commitments on funding arrangements, saying only that any move to a national funding system should be fair and transparent. However, a consultation paper on the issues will be published in the spring.

The paper states: ‘We will invite views on: the merits of moving to such a formula, the right time to begin the transition to a formula, the transitional arrangements necessary to ensure that schools and local authorities do not suffer undue turbulence, and the factors to take into account in order to assess the needs of pupils for funding purposes.’

And, although consultation on how to allocate the pupil premium for deprived children finished more than a month ago, there have been no further announcements on the subject.

Instead, the paper pledges to seek more views on how the transparency of the pupil premium can be maintained as schools funding is reformed.

Education Secretary Michael Gove told the Commons today that ‘everyone will benefit’ from the premium, denying that deprived local authorities such as the London Borough of Newham could lose out.

Questioned later by Public Finance, he declined to guarantee that no local education authority would lose money as a result of his reforms.

‘It is not utopia,’ Gove said. ‘What it is, is significantly better than many expected beforehand, and what it will mean is local authorities will have greater discretion because of the removal of ringfences, and schools will have more discretion to support their own priorities.

‘You could have a situation where an individual school in a local authority has a declining number of students, and that local authority says: “given the circumstances, we’re going to re-allocate funding”.

‘If that school had lots of students that were poor and eligible for pupil premiums then it will clearly see the benefits.’

Elsewhere, the white paper emphasises the importance of good financial management in schools. It confirms the government’s intention to scrap the current Financial Management Standard in Schools, which is considered too burdensome and complex, and replace it with a simpler standard during the next academic year.

In line with the move to make schools more financially autonomous, local authorities are to lose their clawback mechanism from next year. This allows them to recover unspent money from school bank accounts. Guidance on clawback powers and the level of underspend deemed to be excessive is to be reviewed.

Gove said local authorities would be the government’s ‘indispensable partners’. They will commission new provision, make admissions fairer, challenge poor performance and champion the rights of children with special needs.

Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham said the reforms betrayed a ‘lethal mix of incompetence and ideology’. He repeated his charge that the pupil premium was a ‘con’ and that ‘many in the most deprived areas will be the biggest losers’.

‘In [Gove’s] push to reform, he is making mistakes that will damage our educational system,' Burnham said.

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