On Thursday 27th January, I posted a blog
pointing out that small schools are much more expensive to fund than bigger schools. It received a great deal of attention because it was one of the first articles to estimate how much free schools would cost based on last year's school budgets; in particular, it highlighted the fact that schools with fewer than 700 pupils become progressively more expensive to run. Being based on money that's actually been spent, it's hard to deny this fact. I used it to estimate free school costs for the coming year. Toby Young wasn't too happy about it because I suggested his free school would spend £7K more per pupil than your average state school; he called my estimates "complete balls" . But they had a solid evidential basis, I'd based my projections on a "linear regression" derived from the DfE's 2009-2010 spending data. It lead to me discussing the issue on BBC London News and BBC radio that evening among other things.
Coincidentally, it appears that the very next day, the DfE posted a newly updated funding page for Free Schools on the DfE website, which can be accessed here
. It has a "reckoner" tool on it where you can input your pupil figures and generate how much revenue the free school will get for the year. Needless to say, having carried out some calculations on it, the funding per pupil looks pretty in line with the state averages. However, you only need to read "A Guide To Free School Revenue Funding"
to realise that the "free school ready reckoner tool" is not a reliable indication of the revenue a school will get because it does not include two vital details:
"Capital funding, which will depend on the circumstances of individual Free Schools (and within this heading is included any ongoing annual costs of leasing premises).
Any initial funding which may be provided by DfE to help Free School proposers to develop their projects."
Capital funding will obviously be large because it will include the costs of building, procuring land and so forth. The second of these "initial funding" is very vague: this basically gives the DfE the discretion to fund the school how they want. They appear to have the power to do what they like here without anybody knowing about it.
The DfE needs to publish the capital funding and initial funding figures for each free school for us to know how much they cost per pupil. Without them the ready reckoner tool is not reliable.