This note provides background on the planned introduction of a national funding formula for schools in England and on the school funding consultations launched on 7 March 2016. Information on reaction to the proposals - including on their potential implications for particular areas such as London - can be found in section 4.Jump to full report >>
The average amount of per pupil school funding individual local authorities in England receive from the Government each year varies considerably. Funding is distributed onwards to schools using local funding formulas, which give different weights to different factors, meaning that there are differences in the amount of per pupil funding received by individual schools within a local authority area.
Critics argue that these disparities are unfair, and that funding should more closely reflect area, school and pupil characteristics.
Under the Coalition Government, the Department for Education (DfE) began the process of school funding reform, holding a number of consultations and making some important changes. Among other things, they allocated additional funding to the ‘least fairly funded’ local authorities for 2015-16. However, they stopped short of introducing a national funding formula.
In the November 2015 Spending Review, the Government confirmed it would consult on a new national school funding formula early in 2016, with revised funding arrangements being brought in from 2017-18. On 7 March 2016 Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announced the first two consultations on further reform. The first of these proposed a national school funding formula which will include a basic per-pupil amount, and factors reflecting pupil characteristics, school and areas costs. The precise composition of the formula, and weighting given to the different factors, will be the subject of a further consultation expected later in 2016. It is therefore difficult to say at this stage how particular areas or schools are likely to be affected.
The Government is proposing a two-year transitional period. It is also proposing that most funding – with the exception of high need funding – will eventually be given directly to schools and not routed through local authorities.
On high need funding – largely, this is for special educational provision - the Government is also proposing the introduction of a national funding formula to allocate money to local authorities. However, for at least the next five years, funding allocations would continue to be calculated, in part, on the basis of LAs planned high needs spend in 2016-17 and not solely on assessed area needs, in order to ensure stability.
Reaction to the proposals has been mixed, but there has been widespread welcome for the principle of moving toward a more transparent distribution of funding. Some have expressed concern about the fine detail and implementation of the proposals, and the potential for areas that are now comparatively ‘well-funded’ – including much of London and some other urban areas – to lose funding.
The main source of revenue for state-funded schools in England is the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG). In 2015-16 total DSG was worth £40.1 billion. This is notionally divided into three non-ringfenced blocks, the largest of which is the Schools Block at £32.2 billion, or 80 per cent of total DSG, in 2015-16. The Schools Block is intended to cover core provision for pupils in mainstream primary and secondary education up to the age of around sixteen.
For 2016-17, Schools Block allocations are largely calculated based on how much an area received per pupil in the previous year, subject to some adjustments. A key factor, therefore, in how much areas receive per pupil is how much they received historically.
Local funding formula
Local authorities don’t distribute school funding straight on to their maintained schools; they apply a locally-determined funding formula first. There is some variation between local formulas in terms of the relative importance given to different factors like prior attainment, deprivation and sparsity. The local formula is also used in part to determine academy schools’ funding.
Coalition Government changes included:
Since taking office in May 2015, the Conservative Government have:
Schools in England report that they are facing rising cost pressures, especially from increased staffing costs.
In the November 2015 Spending Review, the Government said that the core schools budget would be protected in real terms over the Spending Review period, and that per pupil funding levels will be maintained in cash terms. Funding for the pupil premium would also be protected in cash terms. Savings of around £600 million would be made from the Education Services Grant (ESG). This is additional funding given to academies and local authorities for services such as human resources, school improvement and education welfare services.
This note relates to England only.
Commons Briefing papers SN06702
Authors: Nerys Roberts; Paul Bolton