Ministers are being urged to give primary schools more money, as part of a new school funding system due to be introduced next year.
The proposal comes from a collection of essays put together by the heads’ union NAHT ahead of government plans to overhaul the national school funding formula, which are expected to be announced in the next few months.
Jonathan Simons, head of the education unit at the Policy Exchange think tank, floats the idea in his essay for the report, saying that it would “recognise the benefits of early intervention for all pupils, and the greater ability of secondaries to deliver economies of scale.”
Jonathan Clifton, associate director of the IPPR think tank, writes that the government should “use the opportunity [of the new formula] to target more money towards primary schools given the importance of intervening early to ensure pupils get started on the right track”.
Two headteachers writing for the report indicated that they would support the idea. Sally Bates, co-headteacher of Wadsworth Fields Primary school in Nottingham, writes that the government should “really consider why a student at 11-years-old is funded at a lower level than a student at 12-years-old.”
Robert Campbell, executive principal of Impington Village College, a secondary school in Cambridgeshire, says that headteachers “would probably accept that giving key stage 3 more than key stage 2 is difficult to justify, so that’s something that could change.” However, he added that extra funding was needed for key stage 4.
Several contributors to the report argue that the pupil premium should be kept as a separate funding stream, rather than being pooled with the rest of schools’ budgets once a new formula is introduced.
TES reported in September that the Association of School and College Leaders was urging ministers to pool the £2.5 billion pupil premium budget with the overall £40.1 billion schools budget.
But Mr Simons writes that the pupil premium “should continue to be reported on separately at a national level given its profile and requirements of school reporting of spend.”
Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, backed Mr Simons, writing that “combining the pupil premium with other deprivation funding will take away the focus that it has afforded to our poorest pupils”.
James Westhead, executive director of external relations at Teach First, writes that “a separate funding stream for pupils from low income background should stay, to keep accountability and focus”.
The NAHT’s general secretary Russell Hobby warns in the report that schools in low-funded areas should not expect to receive huge amounts of extra funding as a result of the reforms, adding that the government should “manage expectations” among these schools.
“The most poorly funded areas at the moment are looking at the best funded areas and hoping to achieve their level of funding,” Mr Hobby says. “This is not feasible, and there are good reasons why some deprived areas receive significantly higher funding…The uplift for the poorest funded areas may therefore be less than they hope.”
This could place the government “in the unenviable place of pleasing no one,” he writes.
Mr Hobby says that schools set to gain from the new formula should be allowed to “run a prudent deficit” while they waited for the extra funding to come through. This proposal “has the interesting property of making the transition 'faster' for those who will benefit and 'slower' for those who will lose,” he says.
He adds that the “time had come” for schools’ budgets to be given straight to schools, rather than directed through local authorities. “They can buy in services from local authorities, many of whom have earned the loyalty of their schools through the high quality of their work,” he said.