Scrapping the decile funding system and replacing it with a targeted approach must come with significant additional funding if it is to reduce the financial stress on struggling schools, warns the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).
Education minister Nikki Kaye promises that under the new system, no schools or services will lose funding, while most will gain.
Education spokesman for CPAG, professor John O’Neill, says that this is positive if the new school funding will be provided for with significant additional resources.
“The question remains about whether this will indeed be the case, given the previous Minister claimed that the system was adequately funded and resources could simply be re-prioritised,” says Professor O’Neill. “The main problem is chronic system level under-funding, plus inadequate funding for additional learning needs.”
CPAG says that with low-decile schools currently stretched and in debt, assurance is needed that a system that replaces the current decile funding will provide meaningful improvements to current budgets, and not simply be a reshuffling of funds from one pot into another.
CPAG is also concerned that the proposed new system of school funding relies on gathering personal information on ‘risk factors’ associated with individual children. The ‘risk factors’ include country of birth, ethnicity, number of children in the family, mother’s and father’s average earned income over the previous five years, father’s offending and sentence history, mother’s age at child’s birth, mother’s academic qualifications, and proportion of time spent on benefits since birth.
How can parents feel any trust or connection with the school when it is clear the school is making assumptions based on such ‘risk factors’?
Ms Kaye says that the new system would ensure that parents are guided by ERO reports and strategic plans to choose schools, rather than schools’ decile ratings. But Professor O’Neill warns that there may be negative consequences to ignoring the contribution of communities or the proportions of children in a community with learning support needs.
“Publishing school level achievement data without the contextual information that decile provides makes any school-to-school comparisons of success or quality meaningless.
“There is a multiplier effect, which is more than the sum of the needs of individual students. The higher the proportion of such students the more challenging it is to raise achievement for all students.
“Making parents the main at risk factors in determining additional funding requirements is unfair and crude.”
CPAG says that unless the Government can actually improve on the decile system, they should leave it in place. To impose a more targeted system on schools’ funding appears to be a badly disguised method of further cost-cutting. “This is not ‘putting children at the centre of policy’.”