Friday Five: Devolved school spending, teacher recruitment, youth violence, MAT policy, and falling roll funds


28th April 2023

1. New Institute for Fiscal Studies report captures how school spending varies across the UK and the impact this has on pupil outcomes

A new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) looks at how the different countries of the UK vary in their education spending. The report captures some overall patterns as well as some telling disparities that can enrich policy conversations around the relationship between funding and educational outcomes.

Across the UK, spending per pupil has fallen across all nations since 2010. However, it has fallen by the greatest amount in England, where spending has fallen by 8% in England compared to 5% in Wales. Recently, per-pupil spending has returned to 2010 levels in Wales, England and Northern Ireland.

Scotland represents an interesting case, where there has been a particularly large increase in school spending. Between 2014-15 and 2019-20, school spending rose by 13%, along with a further increase in per-pupil spending of 6.5% between 2019-20 and 2022-23. This leaves Scottish per-pupil spending at £8,500 a year, £1,300 more than in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

However, the report’s author, Luke Sibieta, notes that despite this greater funding, educational outcomes in Scotland have remained disappointing over the last decade. This may suggest that greater resourcing is not leading to the magnitude of improvement in outcomes we may predict. The implication here is that there’s more to driving up standards than funding – how that money is spent is also important.

Read the IfS report here.

2. Becky Allen explains the peculiarities of the teacher labour market

A new blog from Prof. Becky Allen explains that some of the challenges affecting the teacher pay dispute are associated with a monopsony labour market. DfE sets pay scales and almost all academies and private schools lock their pay to these scales, meaning teachers cannot simply apply for jobs with higher pay, like those in other sectors.

This gives considerable power to monopsony employers but can cause difficulties in the context of recruitment issues. To attract more teachers into the profession, one lever government can pull is paying them more. However, this also means increasing the pay of existing teachers.

Allen notes that one way monopsony employers can try to get around this issue is through offering ‘golden hellos’, special grants, and other benefits that are aimed at new recruits, while depressing main pay scale wages. While existing teachers may not immediately see this as an issue, as they face no immediate costs, this can mask a weakened pay dispute position.

Read the full blog here.

3. A new manifesto on youth violence calls for radical system redesign to empower young people and keep them safe

A consortium of organisations led by Liberty has published a report and campaign on ways to lower youth violence that do not involve the police.

The report opens by emphasising that its motivation is grounded in a reckoning with the failure of the police to tackle the issue of youth violence. If anything, police attempts have added to the shameful history of racist law enforcement in the UK and eroded community relations. Successive reviews and commissions finding institutional racism in the police have led to little change. As a consequence, keeping our young people safe from violence will likely involve solutions outside of the police.

Built around youth voice, the guide argues that:

  • School exclusions contribute to youth violence and our approach to pupil safety in schools needs to move beyond exclusion
  • The presence of police in schools is an ineffective way of reducing youth violence and unfairly criminalises young people (as discussed by our head of policy, Baz Ramaiah, here)
  • A reimagined and reinvigorated approach to youth work can be an effective way of lowering youth violence, especially given the evidenced association between cuts to youth services in London and increases in youth violence

The report concludes with ambitious demands to decriminalise drugs, build an emancipatory education system and “move away from policing as a response to social problems”.

Baz feels the report is absolutely correct to adopt a ‘social determinants’ approach to understanding youth violence. Equally, the report is correct that seeing policing as the default solution to every matter of public safety is myopic and leads to many current issues in police/community interactions. There’s also something important and interesting about using the problem of youth violence as an opportunity to appreciate many of the deficiencies in the current deal our young people get and a prompt for presenting an alternative vision. Baz is interested in seeing how the campaign attached to the report advances, especially in light of increasingly empowered police and punitive practice.

Read the full report here.

4. DfE sets out the features of high-quality MATs

The government has been clear it wants all schools to be in (or in the process of joining) ‘strong’ MATs by 2030 but less clear on what makes a ‘strong’ trust. This week, the DfE published Trust Quality Descriptors, which expand on the five ‘pillars of quality’ set out in the Schools White Paper.

The Quality Descriptions have several aims. One is to provide MATs with a set of outcomes to pursue and a clearer clear sense of what they are trying to achieve. Under the logic of the ‘self-improving schools system’, it is then up to the sector to work out how to achieve these outcomes.

Another aim is to help commissioning, giving Regional Directors a steer on factors that might inform their judgement. Here, the DfE maintain that such decisions should be made based on local context, which was the focus of the Trust Development Statements published earlier this month.

The descriptions themselves – a table of no more than a page long for each pillar – provide scant detail and leave a lot of room for interpretation. Laura McInerney has noted a danger that these descriptions will be used to spuriously justify, rather than inform, decisions.

Read the Trust Quality Descriptions here.

5. Several changes announced following consultation on the National Funding Formula

On Wednesday, the DfE responded to a consultation on the National Founding Formula, with a series of changes to be introduced from 2024/25. One of these changes is to how local authorities should distribute falling roll funds, which have taken on renewed significance given the dramatic decline in numbers projected for English students in state nurseries and primaries.

At present, falling roll funds are only available to schools judged “Good” or “Outstanding” at their last Ofsted inspection, but this will be relaxed in the 2024/25 academic year. As covered in TES, Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL, argues that this issue is a product of low per-pupil funding, particularly at primary level, describing  the change as a “minor concession”.

Elsewhere, the consultation reaffirms a commitment to move to a “direct” National Funding Formula by 2027/28, meaning that a single national formula would set individual schools’ funding, rather than LAs making use of their own formulas.

Read the consultation response here.

Read the TES coverage here.