For the past three years have been working as a self employed sixth form funding consultant, having the great pleasure of working with schools the length and breadth of England. I did not enter this role through the traditional education pathway; in fact for the first twenty years of my working life I was involved in project and commercial management of construction projects, across the country. I then undertook degree and post graduate studies as a mature student, gaining my only teaching experience working in lectures and seminars with undergraduates. My entry into the education field was via the now little loved Learning and Skills Council before transferring to a Local Authority, specialising in funding and most aspects of Post 16 data.
So why a Sixth Form Funding Consultant?
I felt that a gap existed in the field of funding support for Sixth Forms. It is difficult for an individual within a sixth form team to devote enough time to appreciate the nuances of the 16-19 funding formula and its implementation, for a Head of Sixth the focus is on performance and delivering the teaching and learning, for a Data Manager again funding data is only a small part of their work and the same can be said for School Business Managers.
Part of the issue for schools is that the approach to funding is much simpler for the providers using the ILR, for schools using the census it is more complex and the data has to be forced from the census, sometimes it feels like it is dragged kicking and screaming
The big question for a Sixth Form team remains “Is my funding good?”, the issue for many teams is they only see their own data so comparisons are difficult, the nationally published data gives only a crude funding picture, so how short of sharing the funding detail with other schools or large MAT’s comparing data, are the teams meant to know if they have it right.
Part of my job, is to tell the story of a Sixth Form as portrayed by the funding data, if that picture is recognised by the team, then generally funding will not be far away from the right area (within 10% of where it should be). You should also know how your allocation data crudely compares to other schools in your area, because of the persistence of protection and some schools carrying significant errors in their funding it is not uncommon to have differences in funding levels of over £1,000 per learner
The Enrolment and Census Period
The funding formula is less complex than previously was the case, the formula is data driven and importantly the funding generated (or earned) from the formula can be influenced by exactly how the census data is recorded. As an example of recording being important (particularly for vocational learners) one school had a group of vocational learners undertaking BTEC Business and Engineering courses and another group undertaking Business and IT.
The school initially recorded the business course aim as the core aim for all learners, however by recommending this being changed the IT group of 30 learners each generated a 20% Programme Cost Weighting Uplift and the 20 Engineers a 30% Programme Cost Weighting Uplift, thus increasing the allocation potential by around £48K through the recording process alone.To move towards optimum funding many schools need help and advice before and during the enrolment and census period to ensure that what is delivered is recorded in the best way possible in funding terms.
The Allocation Process
This is a particularly stressful time for schools, well for the ones who look at the allocation data, it may be hard to believe but some schools do not download and check their data. This is a must. As a consultant I dissect the allocation data to identify each element that has a negative impact on the funding process and explore the data to identify errors or issues with the data. Most allocation processes have had “issues” which have impacted on funding, mainly due to data collection issues, and it is vital that schools are made aware of the issues and if they are impacted by them.
It is NOT the role of the EFA to draw your attention to issues with your data it is YOUR responsibility to check that data.
For my clients it is my responsibility to check the data identify issues raise them and prepare where appropriate business cases, which have in some cases been of six figure values.
We have also seen the return of the Zombie learners. that is to say learners who appear as part of your learner numbers, but whose data, for various reasons shows them as having no study programme hours. (they also add nothing to your Disadvantage & Programme Cost Weighting factors as they count as zero). It is vital to identify if your allocation data is infected with these zombie learners and put in place plans to cleanse the data of them via business cases. For the 2016/17 allocation round these Zombie learners have NO minimum funding threshold to cross and cases can be produced for single Zombies.
How I see my role
My role as a consultant is working with my client schools to identify problems and ensure they get the optimum funding and put in place measures which address those problems for future years. I also as part of a staff development role deliver training around the funding formula and the practical steps that need to be taken to ensure that as far as possible the initial data is right and the correct funding follows.
At one of these sessions I was asked why we had a problem because we ran a data check and no errors were returned, the simple answer is the census can be valid but still deliver levels of funding well below the optimum.
It’s a job I enjoy, its great working across the country, I meet great people I see great schools I hopefully help the schools get out of funding problems, prevent funding problems or simply ensure that a process is embedded that delivers good funding.
I do this in a way that I hope schools think is fair and honest and carried out with integrity, and in a way that I feel comfortable with and can sleep at night.