What pupil factors should a new national funding formula include?

Feb 1, 2016

The NFF should be designed in the expectation that from 2020, or shortly afterwards, every (at least) mainstream school will be an Academy. This means a formula should be almost entirely pupil led. There will still be scope for reallocation at a local level, but increasingly within a MAT or hard federation as opposed to Local Authority. The system should also increasingly move to schools voluntarily pooling upwards, rather than a default of allocations downwards. In practice, this may well mean that the 80% minimum of funding following the pupil should rise, perhaps as high as 90%. This leaves a remaining question of which body allocates the remaining c. 10% on exceptional area or specific costs – high cost areas, sparsity, schools with temporarily falling rolls but which meet a strategic need, PFI costs (a real increasing issue) and the like.

I can’t see why the main pupil factors shouldn’t be more or less the same as currently: a lump sum, deprivation weighting, additional funds for low prior attainment, and funds for the additional needs of Looked After Children and English as an Additional Language. But within that, there are four things worth considering when designing a new formula (these are presented as thoughts and provocations rather than definitive proposals):

  • Within the age weighted per pupil funding, is there scope for reallocating greater funds to primary and away from secondary?In contrast to increases in deprivation funding from 99/00-12/13, which were weighted to secondary (Sibieta, 2015), the pupil premium increases from 2014 have been weighted towards deprived children in primary, recognising the benefits from additional support early in school life (DfE, 2015). However, the main age weighted per pupil unit, and the main deprivation funding within the core system, is still tilted towards secondary (DfE, 2014) recognising additional costs at later stages (mostly staff costs). However, recognising the benefits of early intervention for all pupils, and the greater ability of secondaries to deliver economies of scale, there may be scope for rebalancing this.
  • For deprivation weighting, what are the best indicators to use? There have long been concerns about FSM’s binary nature, even when extending to FSM6 (Hobby, 2014). The current regulations allow for use of IDACI. Yet there has been a desire from some LAs to use more place based measures such as IMD (DfE, 2013) and other geodemographic measures such as MOSAIC (Policy Exchange, 2008). For a national formula, the two criteria for indicators should be a) their predictiveness of headline results at KS2 or GCSE for the relevant pupils within the cohort and b) their ability to recognise small localised deprivation. Unlike in 2014, when DfE decided not to allow IMD as an indicator because of risks of turbulence, this should not be an issue when constructing a new formula because the stability decision will be made in the round.
  • Should funds be reallocated from within the deprivation ‘block’ to low prior attainment within that cohort? Despite the changes to the accountability system, which seek to recognise progress as well as attainment, low prior attaining pupils will still require additional support to make equivalent gains (Datalab, 2015). Teach First have argued for funding to be reallocated away from high attaining deprived pupils towards the lower grouping (Teach First, 2015) which would have the effect of doubly compensating schools for pupils with both characteristics (and a consequent loss for high attaining deprived pupils). This is something well worth considering.
  • What should we do about the pupil premium? As well as the visible £2.5bn allocated through pupil premium, there is also substantial deprivation funding within Dedicated Schools Grant, such that a primary / secondary pupil on FSM6 receives a minimum of £882 / £1,052 (plus up to £691 / £819 if in the highest IDACI band) (DfE, 2014). The pupil premium should continue to be reported on separately at a national level given its profile and requirements of school reporting of spend. But within the formula, there may be scope for combining all deprivation funding and allocating this by a new formula as points 2 and 3 above. This would allow for an increase to low attaining deprived pupils, whilst the national total for pupil premium continues to increase.


DfE, School Funding Reform: Findings from the Review of 2013-14 Arrangements and Changes for 2014-15, June 2013

DfE, Fairer schools funding: Arrangements for 2015 to 2016, July 2014

DfE, Policy paper – 2010 to 2015 government policy: education of disadvantaged children, May 2015

Education Datalab, ‘Secondary schools serving affluent communities aren’t coasting’, 30th June 2015

Freedman, School Funding and Social Justice, Policy Exchange research report October 2008

Hobby, ‘It’s time to scrap free schools meals as a measure of poverty’, TES 11 November 2014

Sibieta, The distribution of school funding and inputs in England 1993-2013, IFS Working Paper W15/10, March 2015

Teach First, Our Policy Position on the Pupil Premium, April 2015

This essay originally appeared in a collection of essays for NAHT, Fair Funding – getting it right


Jonathan Simons

Jonathan Simons
Director of Policy and Advocacy, Varkey Foundation Read Full Bio
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