Schools Common Funding Scheme Review: “with close monitoring and intervention when outcomes are not satisfactory…”

The BBC’s Martina Purdy has a short report on the recommendations of the Independent Review of the Common Funding Scheme, as appointed by the NI Education Minister, Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd, on 12 June 2012.  The ministerial welcome for the publication of the review is here.  From the BBC report

The panel examined the Common Funding Schemes and found that it was outdated, too complicated and failing pupils.

The gap between the best and worst performing schools was wider than other parts of the UK.

The panel has recommended a simpler funding formula and financial incentives so that smaller schools are better off if they join with schools nearby.

The panel is also recommending increasing significantly the amount of money going to pupils from socially disadvantaged background, including children in foster care.

There are, in fact, 30 recommendations from the review panel [pdf file].  Including a recommendation that the Department should “restrict the number of funded initiatives for schools both to minimise administrative costs and effort both at centre and within schools and to encourage greater focus and coherence of approach at school level.”  And that the Department “should closely monitor and evaluate the use of additional resources and performance of schools and intervene rapidly when performance expectations are not met.” 

From the report’s executive summary [pdf file] [added emphasis throughout]

2. We have concluded that the current model of funding schools does not maximise opportunity for all pupils, nor does it sufficiently target educational under‑achievement, or children with additional educational needs.

3. Funding is allocated via a large number of factors, many not clearly related to current school or pupil needs. The origins of many weights and cash values are often obscure, based on historical practice. An unanticipated by-product of the complexity of the current formula has been that funding is not always channelled according to need. Further, why a school receives the funding it does is often difficult to understand. This lack of transparency facilitates perceptions of bias.

4. Two key areas of the current formula run counter to wider Department of Education objectives. These are 1) the significant additional support for all small schools, irrespective of circumstance, which can be contrasted with 2) the low level of additional funding for pupils from socially disadvantaged backgrounds or with additional educational needs.

5. More broadly, it is apparent that the current funding formula is designed to support the needs of educational institutions. The panel instead propose a model of funding that places individual pupils and their varying levels of educational and pastoral need at the heart of funding allocations.

Autonomy and Accountability

6. Currently, two broad types of delegation operate in Northern Ireland’s schools. Voluntary grammar and grant-maintained integrated schools are funded through grants from the Department of Education. Other schools’ budgets and accounts are delegated, buty are largely maintained by Education and Library Boards.

7. There are serious shortcomings in the practical operation of the current model of financial administration for controlled and maintained schools. There is a clear need for more disciplined budgeting and fiscal management by schools and funding authorities. While the Education and Library Boards have provided schools with both challenge and support on financial management, no real intervention has occurred where schools have failed to remain within budget.

8. The processes for monitoring, providing challenge, support and intervening in schools on financial management issues should be closely aligned to the processes in place in relation to school improvement. A financial classification of schools, together with comprehensive intervention procedures for schools that have excessive deficits and surpluses are urgently required.

9. We believe that any delegation must be accompanied by accountability – encompassing not only spending within limits, but spending wisely. Schools should be made fully aware of their responsibilities to plan and use public funding effectively, with close monitoring and intervention when outcomes are not satisfactory.

10. The top down imposition of a particular model of financial  management, dependent not on the wishes, or capabilities of schools, but varying according to eccentricities of school management type, appears, therefore, anomalous. The panel, therefore, recommends that the Department of Education explores the practical implications and legislative, or procedural changes required to allow any school to adopt the systems of financial management operated for voluntary grammar and grant maintained integrated schools.

11. That aside, the panel notes that education funding spent employing financial advisors necessarily reduces the funds available for pedagogical purposes. We also caution that schools be aware of the increased time and expenditure on administration that would accompany the adoption of this model.

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