The recent letter which the DCSF sent to local authorities regarding home educated children with special needs, contained a tantalising hint as to what home educating parents might be able to expect in the way of funding, at least once the new legislation comes into force. Before we look at this, it might be as well to run over the financial situation for local authorities and their schools.
Some home educators get quite irritable with their local authority when told there is no money available for home educated children. They have the idea that their council is sitting on a big bag of money which they are wilfully refusing to share with home educating parents! It's not like that at all really. Running schools is very expensive and the money collected in Council Tax wouldn't cover it. Instead, the government in Westminster sends local authorities a big sum of money each year to pay for their schools. This is called the Direct Schools Grant or DSG for short. It is calculated by counting all the children who are registered at the maintained schools in the local authority area and then multiplying this number by the Age Weighted Pupil Units, known by the hideous acronym of AWPUs. This figure ranges from £2152 a year for children in Year 1 to £3530 for those in Year 11. So a secondary school containing six hundred children might receive about £2,000,000. This money, the DSG, is only provided for children who are registered pupils.
Those of us who have decided to teach our own children, opt out of this system completely. We have to pay for everything, from pencils to sitting GCSEs. Personally, this strikes me as perfectly reasonable, although I know that some would disagree. In the letter to local authorities, the DCSF says, apropos of home educated children;
"We would count each such pupil as 0.1 for DSG funding purposes, and review towards the end of the next spending review period whether this is an appropriate level. We plan to make this change for the 2011-12 DSG period."
Now the interpretation which I put upon this is that the DSG will be increased in 2011/2012 by a tenth of the relevant AWPU for each home educated pupil registered with the local authority. The bulk of the DSG goes of course towards salaries and running costs of schools, so we can't really expect the government to give the full AWPU for each home educated pupil. The big question is, what will happen to this money when the local authorities get it? How much of it will filter down to families for the things they need? The short answer is probably not a lot. To see why, I shall look at Essex, my own local authority.
There are roughly six hundred home educated children known to the local authority in Essex. It is possible that there are as many as this again who are unknown. To monitor those children of whom it is aware, Essex employs three workers and one part-time office administrator. The three members of staff who visit homes are all experienced teachers. Their aim is to visit each family once a year for an hour or so, but they don't manage it all the time. Let's give them, say, £35,000 per annum each. Let's give the administrator £12,000 per annum. Lets us also allow each inspector around £5,000 a year for travel costs. We have a budget here of a little under £135,000 each year. This is very modest for a whole department; no wonder elective home education is often seen as the Cinderella of education departments!
Now let's introduce a law which makes visible the other six hundred or so children who are being educated at home and let's tell the inspectors that they have to see those children as well. In fact they must visit every child at least once a year. It won't work of course; they will have to engage some new staff. Hang on a minute though! If we are being given 0.1 of the AWPU for all those kids, that comes to twelve hundred times £300. An extra £360,000 a year. Hell, money's no object now! We can engage new staff, move to bigger premises. For the first time ever, the Elective Home Education Unit is now properly resourced.
I am guessing, and I might be quite wrong, that most of the money will end up being swallowed by new salaries and so on in this way. It's human nature really. The GCSEs that have been promised will not cost much. Although when arranged privately they cost around £150 a throw, schools only pay £30 or so. Access to laboratories and sports fields will not cost the local authority much either. What else would they do with the extra money, but spend it on hiring new staff?
All that I have written above is very speculative and based only upon the evidence available to everybody. If anybody has any firmer information, I should be interested and it is entirely possible that I have got hold of the wrong end of the stick. The new funding might, for instance, be ring-fenced and to be spent solely on home educating families. This is to forestall any comments to the effect that I don't know what I'm talking about! In this case, it may be true.