Is this the begining of the end for UIFSM? My thoughts on ring-fencing school budgets & sacking heads

Some quick thoughts on the Conservative Party announcement on ring-fencing school spending.

It is clear this is a serious cut in real terms, but with the recent changes to employer for national insurance and increases in pensions contributions, along with the impact of inflation, the net effect will be around a 10 % cut making a significant hole in school finances.

(Sam Freedman’s explains this far better than I ever could, as does Mike Cameron in his blog)

The specific ring-fencing of “school spending” excludes capital infrastructure, maintenance , early years and post 16 education but significantly, brings into focus the funding of Pupil Premium and Universal infant free school meals.

Both these policies are currently financed separately from the general schools budget and only have funding for the next financial year 2015-16. The coalition set aside around £2.5bn for PP and roughly £600m has been allocated for next year’s UIFSM.

The concern is twofold, firstly the PP and UIFSM funding could in theory be brought into the overall ring-fenced schools budget, bringing an immediate £3.1 bn reduction in the amount available to schools. The other alternative set up is that the separate PP/UIFSM pots remain but then become easy targets for the inevitable uts backs.

The fear with the first scenario is Ministers could, with some justification, argue the two items are school specific and should come within the ring-fenced amount. Simply moving PP and UIFSM across into the schools budget would be an attractive option, enabling the Conservatives to maintain the pretence of keeping the ring-fenced schools budget static, whilst actually saving £16 billion over the life of the parliament.

My personal opinion is, this might well be a step too far. It would be obvious to everyone that they were simply cutting funding.

The alternative option is to keep the funding streams separate, however by doing so the money would easily become an easy target for cuts. By excluding PP and UIFSM from their ring-fencing, the Conservatives have made it crystal clear they are both fair game for the kind of reductions other departments have to contend with.

Pupil Premium

Cuts to PP will be tough, especially in deprived areas where PP has been used to offset reduced incomes. These schools are already looking the impact universal credit will have on PP numbers, cutting the PP amount will mean a significant net reduction in funding for schools in poorer areas.

Whist this is appalling, the practical consequences of reducing PP (other than less money to help the poorest children) are negligible. By this I mean the expectation is simply that schools spend PP money wisely on those eligible pupils. Reducing the PP amount still leaves the expectation as is, though with less money. (I hope that makes sense)

UIFSM

Making savings to the UIFSM budget is far more difficult. Schools are required by law to provide a free meal to all KS1 children and the government provides £2.30 per meal to support the policy. Already we see some schools forced into subsidising the meals, so simply cutting the £2.30 ongoing funding really isnt an option as it would make the policy undeliverable.

The only alternative way to reduce the UIFSM spend would be to reduce the number of year groups eligible. This would be counterproductive and requires a change to the children’s act and is a none starter.

Which leaves only two options, keep UIFSM as it is or abandon the policy.spend £600,000,000 or spend nothing.

The clearest indication of the current thinking comes from the Telegraph, who have a source close to the Tory high command saying of the UIFSM policy “the evidence of value-for-money is painfully thin”. Add in the fact additional small school funding looks to have been abandoned and the infrastructure funding was limited to £20m, a fraction of what is needed and things start to look desperate.

The future of universal infant free school meals under a Tory government is starting to look very bleak indeed. I honestly can’t see the policy surviving should the Conservatives get into government again.

(any journalists out there might like to ask ministers for clarification on these issues?)

___________________________________________________________________________

As a former primary school governor, I can’t blog without mentioning the recent lunacy regarding primary heads being sacked if 100% of pupils don’t know their times tables. I find it hard to control my disdain for those who put this forward. To call it a plan gives plans a bad name, rather than write a rant, here are some bullet points on how wrongheaded this all is.

  • There are over 3500 schools that require improvement
  • There are not enough inspectors to inspect 3500 additional schools
  • There is a national shortage of people wanting to be Head teachers
  • The PM can’t sack heads, that privilege lies with governors
  • The PM can’t instruct governors to sack heads
  • There is a national shortage of people wanting to be governors
  • Employment laws still apply to schools, you can’t simply sack heads
  • The cost of agreed settlements, competency, advertising and recruitment would be massive
  • Normal distribution suggests that 100% pass rate is impossible
  • even the brightest can struggle in a test
  • New KS2 Sats have only recently been set out
  • Conversion to academies costs a considerable amount of money
  • There are not enough high quality MATs willing or able to take over all these primaries
  • Middle and Junior schools, get the blame, but are not responsible for laying the foundations.

I will stop there before my blood pressure gets too high!

What we saw on Sunday was appalling. Crass headline grabbing of the most ridiculous kind. The politicians concerned should be ashamed that they put forward anything so plainly ill thought through. It is an embarrassment that they know so little about schools.

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