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Credit where credit's due

The report on Scotland's schools, published in December 2007 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, criticised the Scottish education system for not making a strong enough link between funding and educational outcomes.

In the United States, there is also a move to consider how "learning- oriented funding" might be used to improve the educational outcomes for children.

My own interest in this area was triggered by considering how we could fund sixth-year students who wanted to take Open University courses through the Young Applicants in Schools Scheme, which allows students to follow Advanced Higher equivalent courses online with the support of an Open University tutor.

The problem I encountered was where to find the funding to allow such students to follow these courses. The reality is that all available funding is locked up in schools through the traditional secondary-school funding formula, typically based on a per capita allocation which takes account of the number of students in the school.

It is this "devolved" budget which pays for teachers and support staff, allows resources to be purchased and covers any other expenditure deemed to be the responsibility of the school.

The alternative model I have been exploring is one which identifies the per capita allocation as a flexible learning credit that students can use to access learning at a place and time of their own choosing. Such a system would support two of the key principles of A Curriculum for Excellence: personalisation and choice.

For the sake of argument, let's say that every senior student currently carries a nominal "value" to the school of pound;3,500. Before the start of an academic session, students would select their learning programmes from a wide variety of courses and opportunities, including their own school's traditional senior school curriculum or other learning opportunities which may be available outwith their own school. Some students may elect to study a distance-learning programme that carries an SCQF credit equivalent to HNC, Higher or Advanced Higher.

Funding would follow the student and be credited to the organisation delivering his or her learning. Most students would choose to continue to study courses at their own school and the funding would remain there.

Of course, there would be real concerns that schools might see funding drain from their own school. Nevertheless, given the challenges facing public service budgets, it is fitting that we begin at least to try to cost the delivery of a particular course. For example, how much does it cost to deliver an Advanced Higher course to 10 students for the teaching equivalent of a day's teaching time (including the pro-rata teacher's non- teaching time)? The cost would be 20 per cent of that person's total salary which, including on-costs, could be pound;8,000-pound;10,000 per day. The delivery costs for such a class would therefore be pound;800-pound;1,000 per student. Such data begins to show how funding might be used to access other equivalent learning opportunities.

However, one of the benefits from such a scheme is that it would provide an incentive for schools to co-ordinate their senior courses to allow them to specialise in delivering some programmes that are not viable when confined to their own pupils.

The scheme I have described links funding with the learning output (courses), but does not take the next step of linking funding to outcomes (results). Perhaps that is for another day?

Don Ledingham is acting director of education and children's services in East Lothian.

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