Local authorities will have significant leeway to interpret the national funding formula for schools, being introduced in 2018-19.
For example, as Tes revealed, it will be up to them whether to pass on the “minimum” £4,800 per secondary school pupil and £3,500 per primary pupil included in the formula (bit.ly/PerPupils). Education secretary Justine Greening acknowledged as much in Parliament last week when she referred to the formula as “nominal”.
The government originally wanted to strip out local authorities’ roles in setting school budgets altogether from 2019-20 onwards, but had to rethink this after May’s general election result.
Removing the local authority role would require legislation to be passed, but the government could struggle to achieve this because of the hung Parliament.
Councils still have to allocate money to schools in a way that adheres to Department for Education guidelines. But these new guidelines, published over the summer, provide local authorities with plenty of wriggle room.
For example, according to the formula, schools can be given £110,000 only in the form of a lump sum. But, if councils wish, they could increase this to £175,000, which could benefit small schools in particular.
Similarly, the amount that can be awarded as an additional payment to schools in “sparse” or remote communities could be raised from the “official” limit of £65,000 for secondary schools and £25,000 for primary schools up to £100,000 for both phases.
On the other hand, the proportion of funds that are “pupil-led”, meaning they are based on the type of pupils who attend a school, are allowed to be as low as 80 per cent.
This compares with the 91 per cent set out in the national formula and the 90 per cent that was allocated by local authorities in 2017-18.
Having a high proportion of pupil-led funding is seen as important in ensuring that schools get the resources they need to support their particular intake – for example, if many of their pupils are from deprived backgrounds.
When announcing in July that a further £1.3 billion was being diverted to schools from other parts of the DfE budget, Greening said: “Given this additional investment, we are able to increase the percentage allocated to pupil-led factors, something I know honourable members were keen to happen.”