Background: From 2022-23, the Department for Education (DfE) is proposing to increase the funding provided to small, rural schools through the ‘sparsity factor’. It is also changing the way that this is measured, which should increase the number of schools eligible by a further 900.
Small schools have unavoidable fixed costs, but do not necessarily have the same opportunities as other schools to grow and increase revenue – they cannot easily attract more pupils or achieve efficiencies (such as shared staffing). Published data on deficits and school closures indicates that this group of schools are likely to require additional support.
Since the introduction of the NFF in 2018-19, the number of schools eligible for sparsity funding (‘sparse’ schools) has remained broadly the same, around 1,200 schools of which 90% are primary schools. However, data highlights that there are a significant number of schools narrowly below the distance thresholds, which demonstrates that many schools may be missing out on funding despite facing similar challenges to schools that are currently eligible.
The Government’s proposals are:
- To improve how we identify sparse schools in the NFF, by measuring according to road journeys from 2022-23.
- To increase the maximum sparsity factor values by £10,000 across all phases in the 2022-23 NFF. When coupled with the lump sum, a £10,000 increase in the sparsity factor values would mean sparse primary and secondary schools could attract up to £172,800 and £197,800 respectively.
As in previous years, schools that are sparse one year but not the next would be protected from losses through the funding floor (or ‘minimum funding guarantee’).
Summary: Evidence suggests one group of schools that continues to face particular financial challenges is small, remote schools. These schools play a crucial role in their local communities and therefore the funding system needs to be reformed to better support such schools. Until now, those rural and often primary schools – those typically with the lowest levels of funding – have had to rely on sparsity top-up funding.
Several studies have noted significant improvements in measuring distance by using road-network distances, therefore, Voice Community concurs that it is appropriate to move to calculating sparsity distances by road, as this more accurately reflects the distances pupils actually travel to and from school, rather than calculating ‘as the crow flies’. This change will also mean that a greater number of schools will fall under the support of sparsity funding.
It is right for the DfE to widen the parameters of the ‘sparsity factor’ and include schools that would otherwise suffer because they fall just outside the conditions, or indeed those schools which yo-yo back and forth due to their cohorts.
However, Voice Community does not wish to see something given and then reduced or taken away again, and so it will be crucial to the success of this project to insure those schools are included, and to protect them from future funding insufficiencies.