The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Sue Birchall

School funding reform: welcome relief or wishful thinking?

The government's promise of more investment in schools is welcome news to SBMs, but Sue Birchall thinks the proof is in the pudding.

Never one to turn my nose up at more money, imagine my delight at the secretary of state for education, Justine Greening’s announcing that there will be even more investment in schools.

However, on reading the announcement it became clear that the investment is part of the £1.3 billion already pledged in July for the implementation of the national funding formula.

The new plans are designed to support the government’s drive to address the teacher recruitment and retention crisis. To help graduates enter the profession, the government plans to increase the threshold for student loan repayments to £25,000, introduce bursaries with retention payments and launch a pilot scheme for student loan reimbursements. This is paired with an additional £30 million for schools that struggle most with recruitment and retention.

In addition, the government has set out plans to:

  • narrow the gap for our pupils with new English and maths hubs
  • raise standards in literacy and numeracy in the early years
  • improve alternative provision.

The icing on the cake is the investment in degree-based apprenticeships, designed to drive the government’s apprenticeship initiative for the teaching profession. Already a contentious issue, but one for a future blog post!

Show us the money

I doubt that anyone in the education sector will be unhappy about the extra funding, but in these times of austerity, many will wonder where the money will come from. The government has hinted at savings in other areas, such as capital spending and some central school services. However, Greening’s speech in July did not give any much-needed clarity.

Historically, schools have struggled with inadequate capital investment, buildings and assets falling into disrepair and even basic maintenance proving unaffordable. The National Audit Office published a report on capital funding earlier this year, which makes for interesting reading.

The report recommends that a further £6.7 billion investment is needed to bring school buildings up to an acceptable standard. It also highlights the need to balance the requirement for school places and the condition of current stock. With the government encouraging and building so many free schools in line with their election manifesto, this is an area that cannot afford any further reductions.

Sustainably sourced

Of further concern is the fact that the funding has a caveat which declares that it is a one-off investment spanning two years, not an ongoing increase. Bearing in mind the latest announcement, I would question the long-term viability of the declared initiatives. We have endured budget cuts for a long period of time and have no additional capacity within our budgets.

Opposition parties and trade unions have lamented the fact that school funding is still reduced in real terms. As a SBM I wouldn’t argue with this. Our time is largely spent managing efficiencies and cutting costs, so any extra income, for however short a time, would be welcome.

The trick will be to make sure that we have a business model that can maximise and sustain this investment. In the meantime, let’s hope that it doesn’t get hijacked by the government for short-lived incentive plans and unsustainable policies.

Clarity on funding plans

For further updates on the government's funding plans, and advice for strategic planning in an uncertain landscape, executive leaders in MATs can now register for our Achieving Efficiencies in Multi-Academy Trusts conference (14 March, London).

Find out more

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