Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Funding for home educators

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.


  1. I don't know what it all means either; and probably the LA doesn't! I however took the 0.1 to apply to year 11 pupils taking exams, not to all HEers in total..... 0.1 of 3500 would come to around £350 and would thus cover all the pssible exams a home educators might want to take (although probably few do want to do 10 in one go anyway!)

  2. Personally, I'd have paid the LA a substantial amount of money every year to stay OUT of my children's lives.

    But that's just me. ;-)

    Mrs Anon

  3. Mrs Anon(!)

    I do think though that a lot of people round here would actually jump up to say yes for GCSE funding, especially if they are known anyway - they will have nothing to lose. (In fact we have quite a lot of single parents in our group who would put up with quite a bit more interference if they could get more out of the LA.... some of them are desperate for more help, even if it means kow-towing to the LA)

  4. Your interpretation is just as likely to be right as mine, Julie, and this money might just be for GCSEs in Yeay 11. It's just that when they talk of accessing other school services as well, I couldn't make out whether the £350 a year was intended to cover that as well. If the full AWPU comes through to the LA for every home educated pupil, that will certainly make a difference! Is that what you think will happen?

  5. I suppose that why I thought that the 0.1 AWPU seemed reasonable as a total is that the great bulk of the DSG goes, as I said, in salaries, building maintainance and stuff like that. Now unless the DCSF has decided to give us something towards the running costs of our homes or to pay us a little to teach our kids, I would guess that the whole £3500 or whatever the sum, would be unnecessary. £350 a year, on the other hand, would cover GCSEs, overtime for staff who want to hang around while home educators use the laboratories and suchlike.

  6. Of course the government could allow the LAs to keep the £3500 to provide support for HE children, or all children, come to that, accessed voluntarily. It would have been interesting to see whether this course of action had any impact on the degree of engagement between HE-ing parents and LAs - but it's a bit too late to find out now.

  7. Mrs Anon - I already pay the LA and the government a substantial amount of money not just to stay out of my children's lives, but to ensure other children whose parents choose to use state provision get a decent education. They can't even get that right though.

    I don't want any funding for home educating my children. If others do that's fine by me, but they ought to be prepared to accept at least as much monitoring as is currently proposed to get it.

    Either people want the state to keep its big nose out, or they want money. If they want money, they surely have to justify how they're spending it. You can't have it both ways.

    I'm pretty sure that if the government had proposed a system that recognised this simple concept, there wouldn't be anything like the uproar they've chosen to create.

  8. Julie,

    I do understand that there are people on very tight budgets who find the whole issue of exam entries a problem. How about the HE community sets up a bursary fund for those in need?

    I know that this happens on an informal level already, with friends clubbing together to help people out anonymously. (Did I spell that right? There's a reason I'm Mrs Anon.) One of the great benefits of being involved in your local HE community is that kind of continuing support.

    Mrs Anon

  9. its our money and why not have it spent on our children not for some silly LA inspector to give him a job! lets have real funding not jobs for LA staff who proved hostile to home education.
    lets have that money in full to spend on our children think what you good do with it extra tutors books computer software thats what we want.

  10. A few months back I read a document that had been compiled by a LA or groups of LAs in which they estimated the cost of a single home visit to a home educating child at £200. According to government estimates about half of home educators will require more than 1 visit per year and all new home educators will get 2 (or is it 3?) visits per year. I've seen research that found quite high turnover rates for home educators with a high proportion of new home educators home educating for a year or two or less which will increase the proportion on the register requiring 2 home visits. There are also the new admin costs associated with the annual registration. I suspect SAO costs will also increase. Although these may in theory be cheaper to produce as we will have less grounds to fight them, how many fights do we hear about, I've not heard of any in years. I suspect the higher numbers issued will more than outweigh any theoretical savings.

    Looking at these figures I doubt there will be enough money for administration costs, let alone any left to pass on directly to home educators to cover GCSEs etc.

  11. If there are funds available I'm guessing they will be rather limited and if I had to a pick a group where the cash could do most good I'd lean towards the HEing parents of children with SEN.

    Reading blogs and lists, it seems they have to deal with issues that often require incredibly expensive solutions and are the group I think are most likely to suffer from a "rock and a hard place" set of choices. Access to necessary equipment and services via attendance in a school system that is failing their children or HEing, but with immediate loss of required equipment and services in order to be able to provide the most effective home education possible.

    A catch 22 that could eased were funds focused in that direction

  12. The most recent impact assessment for the new bill estimates first year costs of £1170 per home educated child and ongoing annual costs of £668 per child. These estimates are based on all home educators receiving 1 visit and 50% receiving further monitoring and maintenance of the register. They have not allowed any extra money for building a database in the initial costs and have also not included the cost to the government of providing extra school places even though they have allowed extra for SAOs.

    These figures do not include anything for support. If it is going to cost £668 per home educated child to visit and maintain a register without offering support, how far is £350 going to go to do the same plus extra assessment costs for SEN children? As I said above, this money will not even cover adminstrative costs so you can forget support.

  13. "The most recent impact assessment for the new bill estimates first year costs of £1170 per home educated child and ongoing annual costs of £668 per child."

    Did they give a break down of how they arrived at those numbers ?

  14. Not really, they just list what is and isn't included, Don't know if they break it down anywhere else.

  15. They make it up as they go along!

  16. "They make it up as they go along!"


    I'm trying to work out how much I cost.

    There were four levels of government offices involved in the initial permission stage.

    It took them MONTHS to play with, lose several times and rubber stamp vast swathes of paperwork quintuplet.

    There was something like three solid months (claimed, I have my doubts, I think they just forgot all about me) to find and give me the programme (that I had to follow) so I could give it back to proof that I was doing the programme I had to follow. That bit still makes me go cross eyed at the lack of logic.

    There were several hours of secretarial very very huffy and sniffy man hours to cajole the computer into spitting out a special ticket for the books to give to the bookshop, so I could have the books that they say I have to use. I got the impression I was supposed to apologise for not being able to make the book appear magically rather than be this big fat inconvenience. But out of a sense of civic duty I didn't feel I should burn more man hours with the apology stage.

    There was the "do we refer her to social services for regular review" issue as a separate matter no doubt consuming vast amounts of paper, causing wear and tear on rubber stamps and hopefully more than three minutes of man hours actually thinking it through.

    There are the on-going meetings costing man hours in terms of setting up appointments and taking my phone messages.

    (No man hours for the actual meeting cos they seem to prefer leaving me in a corridor abandoned and forgotten, although no doubt that will end up being all my fault. No man hours for responding to phone messages about meeting no shows. Cos so far nobody has called back - again, bound to be all my fault.

    Then there is the end of year testing and assessment requiring a panel, which will need preparation time for creating a test cos we don't have SATs or similar here and time for careful and objective (allegedly) marking and presumably require leaving a bidella on over time to guard the door to block my entry. Unless they plan on locking me outside the school gate as a cheaper form of precaution.

    If I actually cost as much as the figure you lot have been given I'm amazed I'd haven't been given a "ticket" and been sent to a dank office somewhere to settle up.

  17. sarah-_what where you being giving permission to do?
    Im convinced that DCSF/LA's make it up as they go along i dont think they have a master plan just get though each day and hope for the best!

  18. Sarah lives abroad....different rules!

  19. Julie- said Sarah lives abroad different rules.

    where do you live Sarah? it sounds even more weird than our DCSF.its all very strange to me box ticking/long letters/visits/tests my goodness im glad we told them to clear off!
    prephaps DCSF have been in touch with where Sarah Lives for ideas on box ticking for funding? maybe that is the master plan copy some other country rules on home education saves having to write you own?

  20. Mrs Anon said
    "How about the HE community sets up a bursary fund for those in need?"

    Interesting idea but not sure if it would be viable. The tuition group we run struggles to be finanically stable... it is only solvent because a couple of families pay more than their fair share - last year it was propped up by us somehow making a profit on swimmimg! Yet it is really cheap ( e give guidelines for donations but never turn anyone away on financial grounds)- most people pay about £1-2 an hour; which (when I consider how much I get tutoring real school children) is peanuts. Again, some have 3 children in the groups which is an issue because they can't afford 3x the amount. Only one of the tutors (who is no longer an HE parent... but not me!) is paid... the others do it in return for free tuition for their children, if they ate there. It is the hall fees etc which mount up (we use 4 rooms in a community centre). On top of that parents have to pay for textbooks if needed and exam fees...but many are struggling all the time, especially with the bigger items like suddenly finding for exam fees.
    Although there is a certain amount of genorousity and passing on materials, I can't recognise enough people able to make any help towards exam fees being possible.

  21. "where do you live Sarah?"


    The UK would have to work hard for 50 years solid to catch up in how to create a bureaucracy fueled state that managed to combine the highest possible cost, with the greatest level of end user "head-wall-bang-bleed" with the added bonus of the most outrageous lack of efficiency. Not to mention the time scale the most simple task takes.

    I think you are fairly safe from my level of hoop jumping LOL.

    My favorite part was when I was told I was entitled to a response to my request for permission to HE within thirty days.

    At the thirty day point I spent a HOUR in the post office (having to produce reams of ID and all the usual in triplicate "collect a letter" forms that require you to reveal details like the middle name of your mother's cat's cousin twice removed) just to pick up a registered letter from the school, only to open said letter to read the school declaring that...

    As the thirty days were passed and I was entitled to a response, their response was that they had not received a response from further up and they would respond once they had a response, upon which they would base their response.

    Part of you wants to explode at that point, but it is too surreal to really penetrate.

    Which is probably just as well really cos that Post Office woman is a bit intimidating and she wouldn't appreciate me splattering steaming entrails all over the floor.

  22. Sarah a good way to deal with bureaucracy is to send a letter to the same building but to a different department i remember my dad doing this over tax you put 2 departments in touch with each other! he never heard anything after that! anther good way is to ask who every sent the letter in writing to explain what his last letter was about.I found that this is a very good way to slow them down.also if they write one letter you write 2 can work as well.

  23. "this is a very good way to slow them down"

    LOL, if our lot slow down anymore they'll grind to a complete halt.