School funding model 'needs significant reform'

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The current model for allocating school funding requires significant reform, according to a new report presented to the Education Committee on 30 January 2013.

The common funding scheme governs the funding of grant-aided schools and supports their delivery of the curriculum.

A review of the scheme, which saw its report published on 21 January, was commissioned to ensure that the scheme was fit for purpose and was successfully targeting social needs.

Sir Robert Salisbury, chairman of the review panel, said the current formula used to allocate funding was extremely complicated and principals and governors often found it difficult to understand why they received the amount of funding they were given.

Appearing before the committee, he said he believed the scheme meant that smaller schools were receiving more funding per pupil than larger schools and there were currently low levels of additional funding given to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"The guiding principles of our proposal reforms are to significantly increase the amount of funding for pupils from social disadvantaged backgrounds and to simplify and refocus the formula," he said.

He said the panel reviewing the scheme had proposed a new "fairer, simpler and more transparent" formula.

Sir Robert said this would mean there would be a basic per-pupil entitlement with additional premiums given to reflect extra needs such as free school meals.

He said that smaller schools would also receive less funding under the recommended new model.

"We do not think that, in the current climate of financial austerity, all small schools can continue to be generously funded at the expense of their larger counterparts," he added.

The committee's chairman, Mervyn Storey of the DUP, said that this information would not be welcomed by principals of smaller schools.

"I don't think that would sit very comfortably with the many excellent small rural schools of 40,50,60 (pupils) who are doing an excellent job," he said.

"If you are a principal at the school today and are hearing or reading the report, you will simply conclude that this is a mechanism that will now be used by the department to justify their closure and the removal of their pupils to larger schools."

Sir Robert said the report had recognised that some small schools were necessary and needed "as a matter of urgency" to be assigned small school status, something which would entitle them to funding outside the formula.

Responding to Mr Storey's question asking which schools would be able to avail of this additional funding, panel member Evan Bates said that the criteria would be set by the Education Department but that factors including travel time would play a large part in such considerations.

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