CSFAN Future Funding Questions March 2013


Csfan Thought Piece 13th March 2013

Future Funding Questions

School funding is a controversial subject, and one that has hit the headlines this week with Liam Fox and Vince Cable claiming ring-fenced and protected budgets should be scrapped in this era of austerity. Education has fared relatively well under the Coalition, unlike many other areas of the public sector who are hit with 27% funding cuts. Flat cash and pupil premiums are luxuries that other departments can only dream about.

The conservatives pledge for an ever more prescriptive funding formula is potential hovering in for the future, as is the reality that there is no more money, gone are those halcyon days when standards fund seemed like the magic porridge pot.

So where do we go from here? There are two arguments that claim to help solve the financial and attainment gaps. These are profit making schools and linking attainment with financial reward through ‘payment by results’ type schemes.

Michael Gove is said to favour profit making schools, and perhaps for the anti-profit stance that the Lib Dems have made, we may have already seen such institutions created. He has repeatedly looked to other countries for inspiration, and perhaps also justification, to back up his own ideology.  Sweden and the US re two notable examples which Gove champions for their ‘for profit’ school models.

The link between politics, education and profit is fraught with difficulties, for every view that profit in education should be allowed, there is another equally vociferous counter claim.

There already numerous firms involved in education that make profits, educational consultants, suppliers and outsourced services, however the conservative question is whether to go beyond this.

Would commercialism ruin or improve our school system, or will it make any difference at all? Looking at the lessons from other countries, are these valid arguments for a UK case? Swedish for profit schools have increased social segregation slightly, they have also improved results slightly. US for profit schools have also has mixed reviews, primarily around their ‘mis guided’ focus and poor academic results.

Another funding argument to consider is the Conservatives appetite for payments by results. Their July 2011 ‘open Public Services’ white paper advocates this system as it ‘provides a constant and tough financial incentive for providers to deliver good services throughout the term of the contract’.

PbR is not a new phenomenon, in fact the first publicly funded payment-by-results scheme is believed to have begun in 1863, when government funding of Victorian schools was determined partly by the strength of their exam results. It was abandoned after 30 years for being excessively bureaucratic.

In 2013 Michael Gove announced changes to teachers pay, whereby heads will be given complete freedom to assess staff performance in the classroom each year and award pay rises to the best teachers. The Sutton Trust, although not making recommendations on pay has recently published research that suggests exam and test results are the most reliable way of assessing staff performance.

Whatever happens with school funding we can be assured that it will not remain the same, change seeming to be the only constant in the system.