'We need to ask ourselves: what does it really cost to run a successful school?'

Despite the increase in funding, the regional disparity between schools still remains unreasonable and unsustainable, writes Stephen Morales, CEO of the National Association of School Business Management

Stephen Morales

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The Secretary of State recently announced a commitment to increase education funding by £1.3bn to try and address some of the concerns that were raised during the lead-up to the recent election.

The measures raised the minimum funding for secondary schools to £4,800 (from 2019-20) and every school will also enjoy a 0.5 per cent per year cash increase in their funding.

However, these proposals can only accommodate what is known as a "soft formula" – a passage of legislation would be required to convert to a hard formula – and this means that the Schools Forum and local authorities will exert significant influence on actual funding levels.

Local authorities will ultimately determine how much schools receive locally. It is likely that high levels of inequity from one region of the country to another will remain.

Despite the new arrangements, this regional disparity means that the difference between the most generously funded schools and the poorest funded schools remains at an unreasonable and possibly unsustainable level.

Perhaps the question that we all need to ask ourselves is: to what extent are the most generously funded schools operating efficiently?

A look at funding

Of course, we need to consider context. Levels of deprivation and levels of need cannot be ignored. But, even if we strip back all contextual factors and look at raw per-pupil funding, there are some schools operating and delivering incredible pupil outcomes with far less funding than others. We need to understand more about why this is the case.

I believe it’s fair to continue to apply pressure on the Treasury to ensure our education system is adequately funded, and it may be in the final analysis that, even when funds are more equitably distributed, the pot is too small.

However, the debate tends to gravitate towards what a school is losing rather than what others could potentially gain as a result of fairer distribution and, more importantly, what the direct impact on the quality of teaching and learning across the whole system will be.

Having a grown-up debate about what it is possible to deliver and what will be lost with a finite, or a fixed sum of money, makes sense to me.

Can we focus more on what can be achieved with different levels of funding benchmarked against live examples? For example, what can we expect from a co-ed secondary comprehensive school with per-pupil funding at £4k, £5k, £6k, etc., and where are the examples of successful schools at each of these funding levels?

Developing benchmarks

The National Association of School Business Management will soon become the Institute of School Business Leadership and we are keen to develop benchmarks that can help school business professional across the country. In 2016, we commissioned a review of operational efficiency in schools and found that even in well-managed, Ofsted outstanding, schools there were significant organisational design, procurement and process savings to be made.

We need to reflect and take stock. What does it really cost to run a successful school?  What does success look like? Who is qualified to make the judgement? And should the success criteria be weighted according to funding?

School business leaders’ need to ensure that the school, or schools, they serve are appropriately resourced and provide a safe and conducive environment for the optimisation of learning, that legal obligations are met and that the organisation is sustainable.

As an absolute baseline, all this needs to be delivered irrespective of funding levels. We need to hear from these professionals and that’s why we’ve launched a major survey with Tes. I urge every school business leader to participate. You can do so here

Stephen Morales is the CEO of the National Association of School Business Management, soon to become the Institute of School Business Leadership.

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Stephen Morales

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