Today I was at a conference with lots of other head teachers. I was sat with my local authority group of heads when I spotted a lovely head teacher from another authority, Cathy, who had informed me earlier in the year about how we could use the primary accountability document to help try to make more accurate predictions about progress expected from our current Years 4, 5 and 6 at the end of Key Stage 2 (this was before I knew about @jpembroke’s value added calculator). (https://twitter.com/jpembroke) and value added calculator (http://sigplus.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/va-calculator-and-floor-standards.html)
I made my way over at break time and said hello. I told her that I had told other English leaders in Oldham about how to work out possible expected progress when she told me about her next crusade.
She had realised that in her budget she had a £9,000 deficit which she couldn’t account for it. She looked and looked and looked but she couldn’t find where this money had gone. Then she realised that it was because of the universal free school meals that all infant children receive. Cathy looked at me with her eyebrows raised, clearly expecting me to understand.
I didn’t understand so she explained it simply to me! If you have 90 children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 combined then, theoretically, you should receive £437 for each child to cover a school meal a day for the year. Therefore you should get 90 x 437. Cathy had increased her infants by 6 children this year, but her universal free school meals money had dropped by around £9,000. She couldn’t understand this so she contacted her local authority and they informed her that schools do not receive money for the number of children on roll, but that they only receive money for the number of children IN SCHOOL on census day. They take a mean average of the October and January census and this determines how many children you get funding for, so if you have 5 children off on the October census day and 3 children off on the January census day, your school will not be funded for 4 children to have the universal ‘free’ school meals for the whole year, even though those children will still need to have a lunch. However, school will still have to provide a meal. And where will this money come from, you ask? Why… your school budget of course! So those mean average of four children being absent will cost your school £1,748.
I couldn’t believe it.
My mouth dropped open and I covered it with my hand.
This couldn’t be right, could it?
I’m a new head and I’m sure I must have misunderstood.
Break time finished and I headed back to my Oldham pals. I explained what Cathy had just told me and they were incredulous. They told me that I must have got the wrong end of the stick and I was pretty sure they were right. I occasionally misunderstand things and I was sure that this must have been one of those times, especially as these experienced heads from my own authority were telling me it couldn’t be this way.
But I still texted my office administrator and asked her to check if it was correct. The office administrator got back to me and told me it was actually correct! She had called the finance team and they had confirmed it. My school will have to find £1,300 from our budget to cover the universal ‘free’ school meals because some children were absent on census day.
This is £1,300 that could be spent on:
4 coaches to take kids on school trips;
1,805 bottles of paint;
5 ipad minis;
93 Nike Pitch Premier League Footballs;
137 tickets to Chester Zoo;
10% of a TAs wage;
260 new library books;
108 tickets to see The Very Hungry Caterpillar at the Lowry Theatre.
My point is, that because some children are absent on 2 arbitrary days, the school gets punished. As if budgets weren’t already tight enough, they are being squeezed again but in a very stealthy way. And many heads might not even realise it. I know that the experienced heads who I admire and regard very highly couldn’t believe it. When I told my chair of governors she was aghast.
So this blog post is about spreading the word. Census days are important. I will be sending out a letter to try to ensure that these 2 random days have 100% attendance otherwise we will be punished as a school financially. I will be explaining to parents an outline of this problem and urging them to have their child in school every day but particularly on these days. And your school would be wise to do the same. This is the simple way to save thousands of pounds – have 100% attendance on census days.
Finally, I would love to be completely wrong and I will modify this if someone can tell me that I am wrong. I really hope I am.
The primary focused edchat - Mondays 8-9pm UK time