Government attempts to ease funding pain for schools and academies to cope with the pandemic

27 Aug

Over the next three years, schools and academies in England will receive an extra £14.4 billion.  In 2022/23 funding will rise by £7.1 billion as compared to 2019/20.  However, once inflation is factored in, this increase will amount to £4.3 billion.  Full Fact, an independent charity, calculated that school and academy funding will be £135 million a week higher by 2022/23.  It works out to £82.7 million a week, when one adds inflation.

The UK Statistics Authority is uneasy about the announcement, which it thinks can be misleading.  It told the DfE to provide “appropriate context” on statements about the funding.

It appears that the government is adding layers of sugar-coating to make school and academy finances to be sweeter than it really is.  Full Fact has been critical.    Adding several years’ spending makes the financial picture rosier than it would otherwise have been.   Rather, the government should make its announcements on funding on an annual basis.  Adding several years’ increases and lumping them together is disingenuous and misleading, to say the least.

When Full Fact asked the DfE how it calculated the figure of £135 million a week, the answer it received was that this was for 2022/23—not all three years.  It was calculated by dividing £7.1 billion by 52 (for each week in the year), which gives approximately £136.5 million. Also,  the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said that the £7 billion increase in spending by 2022/23 was actually £4.3 billion once inflation was factored in.

On 20 July 2020, the Department for Education confirmed that the government was allocating £80 per pupil as its Covid-19 “catch-up fund”.   Every school and academy will receive this dollop irrespective of the characteristics of the pupil-intake.   The DfE confirmed that schools and academies “can decide how best to use the allocation to tackle the impact of lost teaching time on their pupils”. It encouraged them “to spend it on evidence-driven approaches including small group or one-to-one tuition, support over the summer or additional support for great teaching”.

The DfE further announced that it was investing in a coalition of charities – including Teach First – the organisation that has recruited high-fliers into the teaching profession – to establish a national tutoring programme with a view to appointing “academic mentors”.  They will provide one-to-one and small group tutoring in schools and academies serving disadvantaged communities.

While the extra financial support was welcomed generally, research reveals that poorer pupils missed out on learning more than the average (and continue to do so) during the pandemic.

Nick Brook, Deputy General Secretary of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT), told Schools Week that even though the catch-up took account of the size of the school, it was unlikely “to reflect the scale of the challenge faced”.

“Schools serving the most deprived communities may find that additional funding may not go far enough to address the true cost of this crisis. It may yet be the case that their children will need additional support from government once schools have had the chance to assess the needs of all their pupils.”

David Laws, executive chairman of the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and a former Minister for Schools, agreed.  He said that the money was “badly targeted and unlikely to prevent a widening of the learning gap between children from poor backgrounds and other pupils”.

He added: “It is concerning that the government has missed an opportunity to target extra funding to where it is most urgently needed. At a time when social mobility was already in danger of stalling, and with Covid significantly worsening the learning outlook for poor children, today’s decision could prove to be a costly mistake.”

Children from affluent backgrounds will benefit most from Boris Johnson’s commitment to “level up” school funding.  Disadvantaged primary pupils will receive a real-terms funding increase of 0.6% while other peers in affluent areas are given 1.1%.  White British pupils will get increases of 1.4% compared to 0.5% for non-White British pupils according to the EPI analysis.  Those primary pupils who have English as their mother tongue will see real term increases of 1.2% compared to 0.3% for pupils who have English as an additional language.

In the secondary phase the extra funding, while being more evenly spread, still has in-built unfairness.   White British pupils will receive an increase of 0.7% compared to the 0.3% that non-white British pupils will receive.

In the financial year 2021/22, a secondary pupil will attract a minimum of £5,150 – up from 5,000 this year, and a primary pupil at least £4,000 – a rise of £250.

Julia Harnden, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The problem is that many schools in deprived areas, where funding rates are higher to support disadvantaged pupils, are getting lower uplifts, because the government isn’t putting enough money into the system to increase their funding to the same extent. In fact, we are concerned that some of these schools may be worse off in real terms because school costs are rising above inflation.”

The other small matter is financial support for the new tutoring scheme, which will now not start until later in the autumn of 2020.  Headteachers are disappointed, especially as Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised “a massive catch-up operation” for pupils over the summer recess.

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