Chapter 3: Future systems of funding
In general, the view of many was that a PEF type approach to school funding would bring a range of benefits. However, there were anxieties about how exactly money should be allocated and many respondents stressed that the needs of pupils should be assessed in a more rounded way.
Many respondents, particularly local authorities and headteachers, felt that headteachers should have control over staffing, staffing structures and educational resources. Whilst some argued that headteachers should be responsible for dealing with additional support needs, local authorities and other organisations raised concern of the costs of specialist service provision ( e.g. sensory impairment) which they believed should be managed at local authority level. There was broad agreement across all respondent types that headteachers should not be responsible for utilities and building maintenance.
According to some (mainly parents, local authorities and other organisations), increasing funding powers at a school level had the potential to improve the responsiveness of schools to local challenges. However, the majority of respondents expressed concern over the risks attached to this arrangement. Local authorities and other organisations were most likely to refer to operational risks related to regulation and consistency.
Allocating a greater proportion of funding directly to clusters was not supported by most respondents. While the potential value of clusters from a functional point of view was recognised by local authorities and other organisations, most respondents thought that using clusters as a funding conduit would add a layer of bureaucracy and complexity.
Respondents felt that the role of the proposed Regional Improvement Collaboratives was unclear, and so found it difficult to comment on detail. However, there were some concerns around the extensive geographical scale of these collaboratives, and felt that decision making could be too far removed from individual schools.
This chapter outlines key messages on the proposals to change the way schools are funded. It answers the following questions in the consultation:
Question 3: How can funding for schools be best targeted to support excellence and equity for all?
(a) What elements of school spending should headteachers be responsible for managing and why?
(b) What elements of school spending should headteachers not be responsible for managing and why?
(c) What elements of school spending are not suitable for inclusion in a standardised, Scotland-wide approach and why?
(a) What would be the advantages of an approach where the current system of funding schools is largely retained, but with a greater proportion of funding allocated directly to:
c. Regional Improvement Collaboratives
(b) What would be the disadvantages of an approach where the current system of funding schools is largely retained, but with a greater proportion of funding allocated directly to:
c. Regional Improvement Collaboratives
The answers to these questions are provided in more detail below.
3.1 Barriers that headteachers currently face in exercising their responsibilities under Devolved School Management ( DSM) and how these barriers could be removed
The consultation document asked respondents about the barriers headteachers currently face in exercising their responsibilities under DSM, and how these barriers could be removed.
This section includes specific messages on the DSM approach. It is important to note, however, that many of the barriers identified here also relate to the disadvantages of the system as a whole.
The main barriers identified were, in order of prevalence (beginning with the most frequently mentioned):
- The insufficient level of control granted to headteachers;
- Headteachers' workloads;
- The level of bureaucracy involved in administering DSM;
- The capability of headteachers in completing tasks that do not relate to learning.
These are now considered in more detail.
- Many respondents felt that the level of control headteachers had under DSM was insufficient to effect change. This included many parents, local authorities, headteachers/teachers and other organisations. There were specific references to the limited control headteachers have over staffing structures. Many headteachers participating in the focus group discussions felt frustrated by the different levels of autonomy granted to headteachers working in different local authority areas. Some participants were able to manage their own staffing structure and create new roles, while others described themselves as having no control over this area.
- The current workload facing headteachers was argued by a range of respondents to prevent effective management of DSM schemes. There were many references to the 'overly complicated' bureaucracy associated with administering DSM, and the time required of headteachers to complete administrative tasks. It was widely agreed that headteachers required greater administrative support in order to focus their attention on management and planning.
- Some respondents raised concerns that headteachers did not have the competencies required to meet their full responsibilities under DSM. This point applied to duties that were not directly related to teaching and learning, with the majority of comments highlighting the need for business management skills. This issue is discussed in more detail in chapter 4 of this document.
Question 3: How can funding for schools be best targeted to support excellence and equity for all?
The consultation asked how funding for schools can be best targeted to support excellence and equity for all. Respondents covered three main issues in their responses to this question:
1. Features of a PEF type approach to funding and considerations regarding the extension of this
2. The allocation system for targeted funding
3. Funding for Additional Support Needs ( ASN) and looked after children
3.1.1 The features of the Pupil Equity Fund ( PEF) and the extent to which this improves targeting to support excellence and funding for all
The PEF approach was one of the two approaches to fair funding presented in the consultation document and attracted a wide range of comments (the other being to extend the Headteachers' Charter to enhance consistency of funding). Most respondents (51%) mentioned PEF in a variety of contexts, identifying both strengths and weaknesses to the approach.
126.96.36.199 Advantages of a PEF type approach to targeting funding
Overall, there were some positive comments from local authorities, parents, headteachers/teachers and other organisations about the value of PEF and the scope for extending the PEF approach to targeting funding:
- A few local authority respondents felt that PEF in its current form encourages creativity, ideas and cluster working - though there was a recognition that pooling funding on a cluster basis was unusual 'despite encouragement to do so'. A specific example was provided by one other organisation which stated how PEF had allowed schools to go out and visit heritage resources in their communities, and the " opportunity for schools to think creatively about raising attainment and opportunities for one-off trips and projects to improve health and wellbeing."
- An organisation representing headteachers highlighted the need to extend PEF arrangements to pre-school settings to tackle disadvantage at the earliest stages. This point was also raised by all headteacher focus groups. Participants argued that if there was greater investment in early years interventions, it would help to alleviate the deep-seated issues they were dealing with at later stages, and so reduce the scale of costly interventions currently required in primary and secondary schools.
A range of other points were mentioned, albeit at lower levels, including:
- A few respondents considered that PEF had proved successful in targeting schools with a high proportion of children who live in deprived areas;
- One headteacher/teacher felt that PEF had created opportunities for disadvantaged learners;
- One parent suggested that PEF was widely accepted by parents as a useful initiative for tackling disadvantage.
188.8.131.52 Concerns related to extending a PEF type approach to targeting funding
Many respondents, particularly parents, local authorities and other organisations raised concerns about adopting the formula for allocating PEF ( i.e. based on Free School Meals ( FSM)) and the need for a more sophisticated approach in any future model. This view was also expressed by many headteachers who participated in focus group discussions. A number of points were made on this matter:
- One parent felt that using FSM is " a blunt tool and misses many vulnerable students". Another parent felt that FSM as an indicator of poverty needed to be complemented by a reflection of the other factors that reduce attainment: "Adverse Childhood Experiences such as divorce, abuse, etc also impact attainment", as well as issues such as dyslexia and autism. Many headteachers who participated in the focus groups also stressed this point. Specific examples provided included pupils who were suffering mental health problems as a result of neglect, as they had parents who were 'cash rich and time poor'.
- A local authority respondent stressed the limitations of the present allocation of PEF (based on FSM): the uptake of FSM can vary widely within communities, and the children for whom the funding is allocated may not be the children who require support to raise attainment.
- The issue of the stigma related to applying for FSM - so reducing the potential scale of PEF income of schools in deprived areas - was identified by some respondents. One respondent described how some schools had not benefited from PEF, despite being in areas of high deprivation, as families had not completed the FSM application form. In addition, one other organisation pointed out that Armed Forces children do not qualify for FSM and so there may be a need for targeted funding for them.
- Some local authority respondents covering rural areas stated that neither FSM or SIMD helped them to target pupils experiencing disadvantage. Two of them considered that PEF produced very small amounts of money for their rural schools and dispersed it too widely to make it useful for funding interventions. So, if a PEF type approach to targeting funding according to need was to be extended, it would need to use different approaches to make a significant difference to schools in rural areas.
- Another local authority respondent stated that schools have attainment challenges regardless of FSM status and needed support to address these , "Any funding system based on the PEF formula would be far from fair as the methodology is fundamentally flawed." This respondent stated that many remote, rural and island communities suffered in other ways "…as statistics from the SIMD don't support the need for additional funding towards education". One other organisation made a plea for a more sophisticated, research based measure of child poverty to be applied to determine additional levels of funding based on need, and defining poverty in a way that made allowance for vulnerable families not in SIMD 1 and 2, nor in receipt of FSM.
184.108.40.206 Other issues around extending a PEF type approach
A number of respondents identified other issues around the PEF approach to targeting funding:
- Some Local Authority respondents saw PEF as having created additional bureaucratic requirements. This was to do with:
- "The separate accounting from school's DSM budget, which required different codes to be set up and different HR and SEEMiS markers to be established so that any staff, services and resources bought from PEF funding could be accurately tracked and not double counted in the September census."
- An issue around job sizing - which is currently based on allocated budgets and staffing through DSM. Potentially, " Headteachers could be using relatively large budgets to employ extra staff, but none of this can be counted for job sizing".
- One local authority respondent was anxious that, "…a proposal to extend PEF by allocating funding on a formulaic basis… would create more complexity, more variation, by-pass democratic accountability, and increase the workload of headteachers ".
- One other organisation referred to Enquire (the Additional Support for Learning helpline) and stated that "...funding models like PEF may actually contribute to long term inequity of outcome for children and young people with ASN as it may be hard for schools to resist using additional funds to plug its existing gaps in funding, such as staffing".
- Finally, there were anxieties from a few Local Authorities and one other organisation that PEF had created 'silo' working which can detach important elements of education from a 'whole system' approach. They felt that the way in which money is spent can be driven by the individual priorities of headteachers with no clear link to children's service planning, community planning or wider Local Outcome Improvement Plans. These Local Authorities therefore felt that extending a PEF-type approach to overall funding of education may put integrated working at risk.
- One other organisation raised the point that the focus should not be exclusively on the poverty gap but on "…the potential gap, i.e. the extent to which pupils are supported to achieve their fullest potential".
3.1.2 The allocation system for targeted funding
A few respondents (one parent, one Local Authority and 2 headteacher/teachers) considered it important that there was core funding of schools to ensure excellence and equity for all. Respondents stated this should be assessed using a range of factors.
"Every school should receive a core entitlement to run the academic year with flexibility built in for an over or underspend and future planning. Additionality would then be given taking into account issues such as rurality, deprivation, the level of need within the school, condition of the building and other appropriate factors" - Local Authority
- Another Local Authority stressed the need to remove ring-fencing to allow heads to make the decisions to support excellence and equity in their establishments… " This would include the removal of teacher number requirements as it may not always be the number of teachers but rather the quality which is the issue".
- A Local Authority and some focus group headteachers stressed the need to appreciate the place of schools within a wider support context - "Funding needs to be targeted to schools and centres but also to social work, health and other agencies supporting the development of the whole child."
- Some parents made the case for a more comprehensive and accurate funding method for calculating deprivation. "Funding which targets areas based on SIMD data is not only inappropriate for rural areas but also inaccurate for urban areas…due to the significant proportions of families living in private (landlord) housing due to a lack of social housing".
- Many other organisations presented points about how to improve the current method of school funding and their points included:
- It needs to take disability into account, " Inclusive schools in areas of little or no deprivation may not qualify for additional funding to support pupils with ASN." The main point was that a child with a disability can be anywhere in the school system, and their support needs are the same whether or not they are in a deprived area.
- The model needs to take into account a wide range of social factors such as deprivation, health and child poverty.
- Calculations of cost per pupil need to be made on the basis of a " level playing field which takes account of the diverse nature of local authorities - for example, urban vs rural, affluent vs deprived, special schools vs all-inclusive schools".
- A parent made the case for schools to have dedicated funds to encourage wider parental engagement, which could be used in a range of ways, such as paying for meals, transport, childcare, specialist tutors, craft materials and supporting homework clubs. They also stressed the importance of the flexibility that headteachers had to identify and target the needs of their pupils.
- One other organisation stressed the wider need for flexibility to be built into the education system to support local decision making and strategic decisions about how best to overcome local challenges, whether caused by geography, deprivation or other circumstances. One respondent stated that, "…it was important for local policy and funding decision to be based on local contexts - the school estate, the roll of small schools, maintaining teacher numbers locally - making simplicity at the national level difficult…Decisions should be taken as close to pupils as possible, but the wider policy context removes flexibility for local authorities which in turn removes their ability to pass flexibility down to schools."
3.1.3 Funding for Additional Support Needs ( ASN) and looked after children
A range of respondents stressed the importance of ensuring an effective funding response to the needs of children with ASN, and looked after children, when seeking to close the attainment gap. Respondents made the following points:
- A headteacher/teacher emphasised the fact that many young people in high SIMD deciles have ASN, and targeted funding needed to respond to the different scale and nature of ASN needs across different SIMD deciles.
- A teachers' union stressed the need for consistency in additional support for learning provision. For looked after children, where an assessment of ASN did not take place, wide variations were evident in the proportion of children assessed as having no additional support needs, as well as in the response to an ASN assessment. The recommended response to narrow the attainment gap was for funding to follow particular pupils, and be allocated on the basis of need.
- A parent organisation reflected the views of parents that children with ASN are suffering disproportionately from budget cuts, and another parent described the need for more support for families who are struggling to support their children (through regular mentoring for parents and children at home, support networks, or more support for vulnerable children in school).
- One Local Authority regretted the lack of reference to children with ASN in the consultation document and stressed the need for "…discrete services than can only be viable at an authority/regional level". Another Local
Authority emphasised that the organisation of ASN will always vary across local authorities and, while it may make sense in small urban local authorities for those with complex ASN to have these needs met in a centralised unit, this is not possible in rural areas. Alterations to school buildings must be made to support them, with related cost implications in terms of both buildings and staff.
- A similar point was made by another organisation about children with visual impairment and the need for the expectation of mainstreaming to be matched by proper funding and support in a targeted way.
Question 4: Headteachers' responsibility for school spending
3.2 Elements headteachers should be responsible for
The consultation document asked respondents to identify the elements of school spending that headteachers should be responsible for managing, and the reasons for this. 66% of respondents answered this question. Of those who did, almost a third believed that headteachers should be responsible for all school spending. Only one respondent felt that headteachers should have no responsibilities relating to school spending. Others argued that headteachers should be responsible for certain elements of school spending.
Due to the open nature of the question, a wide variety of categories were identified. The most frequently mentioned elements were:
- Staffing powers;
- School spending related to learning and teaching;
- Additional Support Needs interventions;
- Choosing providers of support.
These themes are discussed in more detail below.
3.2.1 Staffing powers
Most of the respondents who answered this question felt that staffing powers should be the responsibility of headteachers. These included local authorities, parents, headteachers/teachers and other organisations. More specifically, it was argued that the following responsibilities should be given to headteachers directly:
- Control over the appointment of both teaching and non-teaching staff (such as parent support advisers) as this would enable headteachers to " target support where required". A few respondents highlighted that this should also apply to supply staff. Some of the headteachers participating in the focus groups were part of a 'pooling system' for recruitment - generally, they found this to be restrictive and frustrating.
- Many respondents thought headteachers should be responsible for designing and managing their staffing structure including promoted posts. It was explained that this would allow headteachers to make the best use of local resources, capitalising on " existing skill sets and experience" to " maximise their potential". Headteachers involved in the focus groups who currently had control over their staffing structure found this to be particularly advantageous. It was argued that this allowed them to respond flexibly to changing needs at their school, for example, by creating new roles.
3.2.2 School spending related to learning and teaching
Many respondents, predominantly local authorities and headteachers/teachers, felt that headteachers should be responsible for all spending related to teaching and learning. It was widely argued that headteachers were best placed to decide on the educational resources required to support pupils to achieve under the curriculum:
"The headteacher knows the schools needs more than anyone else and, without this control, effective planning and a strong education will falter." - Parent Council.
Another point raised by many respondents was that headteachers should be responsible for procuring educational resources, such as stationary, IT equipment and reading materials. Headteachers involved in the focus groups frequently referred to the long delays involved in current procurement processes and felt that they would be able to find 'better value' goods themselves.
While local government respondents were broadly in favour of giving headteachers greater flexibility and responsibility in procuring educational resources, most felt that this should still be under a centrally managed procurement framework in order to protect schools from financial risk and exploitation.
A final example provided by a combination of headteachers/teachers, local authorities and other organisations was headteacher control over the training delivered to their staff. It was argued that if individual headteachers were given control over training delivered to their staff, they could ensure that staff development was better aligned with individual school improvement plans.
3.2.3 Additional Support Needs interventions
Although this was not specifically asked in the consultation document, some local authorities and other organisations argued that headteachers should be responsible for managing the budget for Additional Support Needs ( ASN) at a school level. Local authorities and other organisations felt that this group had very specific needs in terms of attainment, and it was argued that greater headteacher control of the ASN budget could contribute to raising attainment and reducing the attainment gap.
3.2.4 Choosing providers of support
Some local authorities, headteachers/teachers and other organisations argued that headteachers should be given responsibility for deciding which service providers to access. These included:
- Educational Psychology;
- Careers services;
- IT services.
3.3 Elements headteachers should not be responsible for managing
The consultation document asked respondents about the elements of schools funding that headteachers should not be responsible for. 62% of respondents answered this question.
Three key areas of responsibility were identified in the responses:
- There was broad agreement across all respondent types that headteachers should not be responsible for utilities and building maintenance, including procuring and managing IT systems;
- Many respondents, particularly local authorities and headteachers/teachers, felt that headteachers should not be responsible for certain financial management tasks such as accounting and payroll;
- While there was widespread support for headteachers having greater control over the general budget for Additional Support Needs ( ASN), the majority of local authorities and many other organisations raised concerns about specialist services. These included psychological services, English as a second language support, LGBT issues, and costly equipment for those with sensory impairment. It was argued that managing these costs at school level would be inefficient, affect existing budgets, and leave some schools at financial risk. Managing access to specialist support and equipment at the local authority level was said by these respondents to be a more equitable option.
At lower levels, some respondents felt that catering, primarily the provision of school meals, should not be the responsibility of headteachers.
3.4 Elements of school spending not suitable for inclusion in a standardised, Scotland-wide approach
The consultation document asked respondents about the elements of school spending that are not suitable for inclusion in a standardised, Scotland-wide approach and the reasons for this.
The main elements of school spending felt not to be suitable for inclusion in a standardised, Scotland-wide approach were:
- Building maintenance;
- Transport costs.
These are listed in order of prevalence and discussed in more detail below.
3.4.1 The standardisation of funding approaches
Many respondents talked more broadly about whether there should be a more standardised approach to education funding. While the majority of responses to this question came from local authorities, opinion was divided on this issue.
Local authorities and other organisations described the following advantages of a standardised approach to funding:
- A few respondents felt that a standardised approach would be good as it would provide greater consistency. It was mentioned that this could increase " clarity" and " contribute towards improving attainment at a national level" - Local Government
- Two respondents mentioned that whether or not they wanted greater standardisation depended on the criteria used. One local government respondent considered this the " critical factor", stating that " national benchmarks" were required for fair funding rather than, for example, using Free School Meals as the criteria.
A slightly larger number of respondents made the following points against a standardised approach to funding:
- A " one size fits all" approach would reduce flexibility, preventing local needs from being addressed.
- Some respondents thought a standardised approach would neglect local differences such as population density, geographical differences and pupil demographics. COSLA and one individual local government respondent felt that it was the " multitude of factors" contributing to local need that meant no consistent formula could be appropriate.
3.4.2 Additional Support Needs
Many local authorities, a few parents and one headteacher/teacher raised concerns that ASN funding was not suitable for inclusion in a standardised, Scotland-wide approach. On the whole, local to be flexible in order to respond to such changes in needs. There was also some concern that individual support packages could be very costly, so a central model would provide inadequate funding on an individual basis.
3.4.3 Building maintenance
A few respondents, particularly local authorities, parents and headteacher/teachers, felt that building maintenance should not be included in a standardised Scotland-wide approach. The underlying message across these respondent types was that, " school buildings differ drastically in maintenance requirements".
It was argued that any standardised approach would disadvantage some schools and favour others. It was noted that there was not a level playing field when it came to school property maintenance, as one respondent explained, "The starting point varies.". This point was also raised by many headteachers involved in focus group discussions who felt that headteachers working in smaller schools, and schools in rural areas, were currently disadvantaged by the disproportionate amount of funding that had to be used to cover maintenance costs.
3.4.4 Transport costs
A few respondents, particularly local authorities, parents and headteachers/teachers, felt that transport costs were not suitable for inclusion in a standardised approach. Many headteachers involved in the focus groups also raised this point.
The main reasons behind this were that:
- School catchment areas varied, and therefore so did associated transport costs;
- Remote and rural schools had much higher transport costs than urban schools.
Question 5: Advantages and disadvantages of funding options
3.5 Allocating a greater proportion of funding directly to schools
Overall, respondents identified many more possible disadvantages to this approach than advantages.
Some respondents, mainly parents, other organisations and local authorities, felt that this approach would acknowledge the value of local knowledge and understanding of need. A few of the same respondent groups also argued that it would be beneficial to give headteachers greater control over school funding. Headteachers involved in the focus groups however, were largely satisfied with the current funding allocation system but sought greater autonomy and control over staffing.
The majority of respondents, however, felt that this approach posed a number of risks. Local authorities and other organisations were more likely to raise concerns over operational issues which could be caused by increased fragmentation, the lack of regulation, and consistency in support provision. Headteachers stressed that such an approach would not be possible without additional support, most notably with business management.
3.5.1 Advantages of a greater proportion of funding allocated directly to schools
While, on the whole, there was limited support to allocating a greater proportion of funding directly to schools, there was some support across different respondent types. The two main advantages identified related to the value of local knowledge and the need to respond flexibly to the needs of pupils at the school level.
- There were many references, particularly from parents and other organisations, to the varying challenges and priorities apparent between different communities, and the value of local understanding in knowing how to respond to these. One other organisation argued that enhancing the role of headteachers could potentially strengthen the capacity to create a ' dynamic local learning community'.
- It was also argued that this approach could give headteachers greater flexibility and autonomy in decision making over school funding and enable them to respond effectively to the specific needs of their pupils. One Local Authority referred to the range of successful and creative approaches taken by headteachers to using PEF as an example of what can be achieved in support provision if headteachers are given greater control. There were many specific references to headteachers' ability to allocate resources (with some including staffing) in order to meet school level priorities, and one parent argued that this would help headteachers in the implementation of school improvement plans.
- Headteachers who participated in the focus groups, however, were largely satisfied with the current funding allocation system but wanted more consistency in the autonomy given to headteachers working in different local authority areas, and greater control over staffing.
"Freedom to be flexible in the appointment of staff is very important in terms of being able to drive forward improvement: as educational priorities change, headteachers need to be able to vary their staffing structures to fit." - Headteacher/teacher.
- A few local authorities reflected on the prerequisites for this approach to work. They considered that, " Ring fencing funds for schools, clusters and regional collectives would ensure that headteachers have greater certainty about the level of funding that they will receive directly". Another Local Authority considered it important that, " In order to provide greater stability, there needs to be a consistency of funding across a longer timeframe".
3.5.2 Disadvantages of a greater proportion of funding allocated directly to schools
While there were mentions of support, as stated above, the majority of respondents identified disadvantages with allocating a greater proportion of funding directly to schools. A wide range of risks were mentioned. The key perceived risks in order of prevalence are set out below, from most to least frequently cited:
- A few respondents, mainly local authorities and other organisations, raised concerns that allocating a greater proportion of funding directly to schools would cause fragmentation and the individualisation of schools. It was argued that this could lead to operational difficulties for third sector service providers and other delivery partners and complicate existing contractual relationships. One headteacher/teacher also suggested that fragmentation could have a negative effect on integrated Education and Child Care Services.
- Another viewpoint expressed by other organisations was that further decentralisation would create greater disparity between schools which was perceived to conflict with the Scottish Government's aim to 'achieve excellence and equity for all'. There was some concern regarding the measures used to allocate any additional funding. It was argued that, if funding continued to be allocated using FSM, schools with low numbers of eligible pupils, and/or high rates of under application, would be disadvantaged. A few respondents also felt that there was a risk of tensions or increased competition between schools. For example, one Local Authority considered that there was a risk that full autonomy over staffing would enhance competition between schools for staff, potentially leading to wage inflation and the competitive advertising of posts.
- Some respondents felt that a greater funding allocation at the school level would remove safeguards and could have a negative impact on the support available for vulnerable pupils. One other organisation was anxious about the risk that further devolution of funding decisions to headteachers may allow them to effectively 'opt out' of providing funding to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and support for LGBT pupils. Another organisation was worried that the 'Funding follows the child' approach may disadvantage pupils with ASN if the appropriate special assessment processes, supported by appropriate additional funding, were not in place.
"The worry of our Parent Council would be that funding could eventually be redirected away from disadvantaged pupils who may not have as loud a voice as pupils from advantaged areas/backgrounds."
- Some respondents, including local authorities, other organisations and parents identified risks around the loss of democratic accountability. As summarised by COSLA: "We have serious concerns about accountability for public money if more power is to be devolved to headteachers without the input of central local authority staff and therefore without accountability to elected members."
- Some respondents raised the point that headteachers would require support, particularly with business management, if a greater proportion of funding was allocated to schools. There were specific references to the need for trained business managers in primary and secondary schools. Respondents felt that there was a risk of headteachers and senior staff dealing with tasks in areas where they lacked expertise and experience. A key message to come through from the focus group discussions with headteachers was that there was little appetite for managing funding that did not relate directly to teaching and learning.
3.5.3 Allocating a greater proportion of funding directly to clusters
In general, most positive comments made regarding this approach referred to the value of clusters more broadly, with only a few respondents focusing on the role of clusters in the system for allocating funding to schools. Local authorities and other organisations highlighted the functional value of a cluster level approach to funding with the potential for maximising management capacity and the ability of schools to pool resources through combined purchasing.
The majority of headteachers/teachers appeared to be opposed to this approach, frequently referring to bureaucracy, practicalities and the risk that smaller and rural schools would be 'overlooked' under this arrangement.
3.5.4 Advantages of allocating a greater proportion of funding directly to clusters
While, on the whole, there was little support for a greater proportion of funding to be allocated directly to clusters, there was a strong appreciation of the value of clusters from a functional perspective. Only a few respondents made explicit reference to the allocation of funding directly to clusters.
Local authorities and other organisations were most likely to highlight the potential advantages of a 'cluster level' approach to funding allocation, while very few headteachers/teachers responded to this question. The two main points were:
- A cluster level approach to funding could be more efficient as it maximised management capacity and would ensure that the local needs and targets of individual schools are met. It was argued, however, that this would rely on effective partnership working and negotiation in order to establish common aims, ambitions and priorities. One respondent in particular felt that this could also encourage the sharing of best practice and specific expertise.
- The ability of schools to pool resources through combined purchasing, which respondents felt could result in better value for money and innovation in how resources were deployed. One Local Authority emphasised that cluster level pooling of resources would help to achieve economies of scale. In terms of the types of resources that should be available, there were specific references to transport and supply staff. However, on the latter point, one organisation argued that there would have to be, "a clear process to assess need to ensure equitable distribution across clusters which could have a varied socio-economic profile."
"If schools' funding was allocated to groups of schools rather than to individual schools, this would support headteachers to collaborate to raise attainment for all children and young people…In the case of ASN they could work together to share resources…across the cluster, prioritising needs and being able to respond quickly to changing need. This would encourage creative approaches such as sharing of support staff. In terms of curriculum support, headteachers could decide on a cluster approach to Sciences, for example, and purchase resources together and plan for the use of these to support learning across the cluster over the session." - Local Authority
The option of allocating a greater proportion of funding directly to clusters was generally not supported by headteachers/teachers. There were very few comments related to this approach from headteachers/teachers submitting written submissions and only one focus group participant was able to identify a possible advantage. The small number of references to this subject tended to focus on the value of cluster level approaches more broadly as encouraging 'joint thinking' and the sharing of best practice.
3.5.5 Disadvantages of a greater proportion of funding allocated directly to clusters
Many respondents, including the majority of headteachers/teachers, identified disadvantages of cluster level funding allocation.
- Many respondents felt that this this would be an unnecessary addition to the level of bureaucracy already in the system. Some argued that this approach would become another element of ring fencing and take the focus away from individual schools. A number of these respondents also felt that, at a time of very tight funding, it made little sense to create a new conduit that could further reduce the money that reached schools.
- There were concerns over the practicalities of managing funding allocated at cluster level. Respondents argued that clusters would require a high level of central support in order to procure items, recruit and retain staff and manage budgets. Some felt that clusters are ' too large and unwieldy', meaning it would take too long for decisions to be made. There was also concern that the geographical spread of schools in rural areas would make cluster level working more complex and the sharing of resources more difficult.
- The point was also raised that this approach fails to recognise the different priorities and needs of schools within clusters and could lead to inequity. This included schools experiencing different levels of deprivation and the risk of secondary schools dictating priorities for smaller primary schools.
- It was argued that if this approach was to be adopted, the purpose and role of clusters would have to be discussed and clearly defined.
3.5.6 Allocating a greater proportion of funding directly to Regional Improvement Collaboratives ( RICs)
While most respondents answered this question, many commented that they were unclear as to the role of RICs under this proposal. There were some references to possible advantages of allocating funding directly to RICs, but almost twice as many respondents identified disadvantages of this approach. Similar concerns were raised by many local authorities and headteachers/teachers who argued that RICs were too large and far removed from individual schools to have the level of understanding required. It was therefore suggested that it would be inappropriate for them to be a conduit for funding to schools.
3.5.7 Advantages of a greater proportion of funding allocated directly to Regional Improvement Collaboratives ( RICs)
Most respondents answered this question, but many of these contributions referred to the value of pooling and distributing funding at the RICs level rather than explicitly allocating funding directly to RICs. Only some respondents identified advantages of funding being allocated directly to RICs. These included:
- Centralising resources, particularly external services, to ensure consistency and best practice across schools. These services included speech and language therapy and educational psychology.
- There was some support from local authorities who argued that, if additional funding were directed to RICs, it would ensure they were sustainable and allow regions to direct support and challenge to where it was most needed. Respondents emphasised that, for this to work, it would have to involve additional funding rather than a greater proportion of existing funding. One local authority argued that this would allow for the continuation of local quality improvement work, providing two levels of interventions.
- Only one headteacher/teacher felt that, "…a collaborative could…commission services across a greater number of schools, reducing costs."
3.5.8 Disadvantages of a greater proportion of funding allocated directly to RICs
Many respondents, including the majority of headteachers/teachers and local authorities, set out disadvantages of allocating funding to RICs. The main points raised were:
- Many respondents felt unclear about the role of RICs under this proposal and what this would look like in practice. These respondents therefore found it difficult to comment in detail. There was particular confusion around the issue of accountability if RICs were a conduit for funding.
- Due to their large geographical size, it is widely argued that RICs would not have a good understanding of local issues and the needs of individual schools. It was therefore suggested that it would be inappropriate to provide them with control over funding allocations. Concerns were also raised that, because RICS would cover large and small local authority areas, the latter may be disadvantaged by their size, and overlooked when it came to decision making.
- There was some concern that this approach would mean decision making was 'too far removed' from individual schools and prevent headteachers from being able to target resources effectively. There was specific reference to the effect this might have on the ability of headteachers to implement Improvement Plans.