16 January 2007

Funding deprivation in schools

The funding of schools is a subject very dear to my heart and is probably the main reason that I have remained a school governor for the last thirteen years. For most of that time I have been fighting the local council for fairer funding for our school which is losing out because it serves an area of relative poverty in an otherwise well-off area and the needs of the school, or rather of its children, are not well understood. Luckily the government now recognises that schools like ours are losing out and is forcing all councils to look at how they fund deprivation in school. The council has established a working party to consider the problem and obviously I volunteered to be on it.

I won't go into the details of schools' funding here as it is a complex issue that is not properly understood by many of the people directly involved in it  but I will give a flavour of the issue by summarizing some of the findings from a recent government study on the issue.

The existing regulatory framework places only a very modest requirement on local authorities to distribute funding to schools on the basis of deprivation. The emphasis that local authorities place on deprivation in their funding formulae varies greatly.

There is a wide degree of variation between local authorities’ strategies for assessing and funding the costs of deprivation, and there has often been no systematic approach to reviewing need.

Local authorities and Schools Forums sometimes have little understanding of the national system of deprivation funding, and of the intended purpose of this funding at a local level. This leads to significant variation in funding levels between schools with similar proportions of pupils eligible for free school meals.

It is clear that additional expenditure has a positive, if relatively modest, impact on attainment. This impact is greatest when expenditure is targeted on the most deprived schools, and towards pupils who are eligible for free school meals.

Overall, local authorities’ decisions on the balance of funding between schools are not leading to deprivation funding being accurately or consistently targeted towards schools in deprived areas.

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