More UFSM chaos: Ring Fencing Academies UFSM funding

Another quick blog on UFSM,

Despite the policy being launched by Nick Clegg at Septembers Lib Dem conference, official correspondence on the topic has been notable by its absence. Whilst schools have quietly been looking at what they need to do, they have been unable to put tangible plans into place without official notification from the government. Let’s be honest, enacting any plan just on the say so of Nick Clegg would be foolish in the extreme.

The first official confirmation that the policy was more than political bluster, was the December 18th briefing on how DfE was going to distribute the £150 million it suddenly had to find to cover schools infrastructure needs,

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/267602/Capital_allocations_for_universal_infant_free_school_meals_and_basic_need.xls

Three things struck me at the time. First was the date it was put out, just before Schools broke up for Christmas.

Secondly and probably the most importantly was how the money was being divided up amongst LAs. As I have previously blogged, because DfE have no idea what schools actually need, they decided to divi the money up to LAs on head count rather than on what they LAs might reasonably need to spend. This leads to the bizarre situation where LAs already providing UFSM, still receive millions to enable them to provide UFSM.

The third issue and the focus of this blog, is the allocation to Academies and Free Schools.

Despite academies and FS making up around 7% of infant schools, they were allocated £20,856,157 for USFM infrastructure, over 14% of the total amount. Those who have followed education of late may not be surprised by this preferential treatment of academies, but as with everything to do with this policy, things are not so clear cut.

Academies received their notice explaining (ish) the policy and informing them of the funding process on December 18th http://www.education.gov.uk/aboutdfe/executiveagencies/efa/efaebulletins/h00230807/issue-42/acmf-update (Maintained schools finally received official letters on 23rd January)
This might seem advantageous until you realise they must request UFSM infrastructure money in the same way they apply for any other capital expenditure, ie with a full business case and supporting quotes, to be in by 31st of January ie 2 weeks ago (DfE are “aiming to have all allocations sent by 31 March 2014”, with the payment coming through in April, giving schools around 20 weeks to get organised for the start of the new school year). I have heard contradictory reports of this deadline being strictly enforced and others who say they have been told there is extra time to apply, either way, it is being rushed and poorly executed.

Where it becomes interesting is that chains containing more than 10 academies now receive “a formulaic ACMF allocation” ie they no longer apply for their funding, but receive a fixed amount dependent on their total roll. So it seems likely that these larger chains will receive a significant chunk of the UFSM money, whilst many smaller academies miss out because they didn’t have time to apply.

Where it gets really interesting is how the chains will spend the money, there is no indication that the larger chains have to ring fence the money for infant school meals and it seems likely it will just go into the chains general capital pot.

I am no fan of ring fencing, but unless the chains are forced to ring fence the UFSM money this one specific purpose, it will be little more than another extra subsidy.

This leads to a number of questions;

  • Which academies will receive what funding?
  • What checks are in place to ensure chains spend the money on UFSM?
  • Who will be auditing all this UFSM provision?
  • this opens up to an obvious question, who will be auditing schools ongoing daily UFSM provision?

The whole audit process looks likely to be made up as it goes along, not least because of the rushed time-scale and the disastrous decision to ring fence this money, a move that goes against much of the good to come from recent education reforms.

What is clear is that the shambles continues, stand alone academies were given next to no time to apply, even if they did manage, they won’t know they will receive any funding till late in the day, meanwhile, the big chains will be the big winners, receiving money whether they need it or not with no guarantees they will spend it on providing UFSM.

One footnote, the Gove/Laws letter is unusually filed under the policy banner “giving all children a healthy start to life” which is odd because prior to the Cleggs launch, no one had suggested UFSM for infants and the idea isn’t mentioned in any of the department of health documents linked to giving all children a healthy start to life policies. Why are they resorting to piggybacking this onto an unrelated policy?

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