3 April 2015

Let us talk of Aristotle. He argued in his Nichomachean ethics that we should treat equals equally but unequals unequally. To treat unequals equally would be unjust, a failure to recognise relevant differences. How does this apply to us today? In terms of the distribution of public goods, such as finite public funds, Aristotle’s is an argument for ensuring that they are distributed unequally, for ensuring that the most vulnerable and deprived people in Britain get more than the comfortable and better off and rich.

I do not know whether Aristotle is on the reading list for councillors and officers at county hall in Cornwall; he should be as an acquaintance with his thinking would introduce principle into notions about the distribution of funds and services, notions which currently are often narrowly parochial and built on sand. For too long chanting the mantra of fair funding has been the simplistic and inadequate approach rather than worked-out argument. The distribution of national funds and resources among different areas and councils of Britain should be based on a full understanding of fairness for all Britain not a parochial us-now.

I have looked at fair funding in the spheres of health, local government, and education in Cornwall several times on the blog and tried to point to a comprehensive approach to the issue based on the Aristotlean principle.

Hackney again
In September I questioned an unconvincing comparison of government funds for Cornwall and Hackney made by the leader of Cornwall Council John Pollard in his fair funding argument. I’m returning to the nonsense of such a comparison now because it emerges in a blog post (7 March 2015) by Andrew Wallis, the Cornwall unitary councillor for education. To the background humming of fair funding, there is the familiar complaint about some other councils getting more per-pupil than Cornwall (some get less). It is reasonable to question the present distribution (which probably no one is happy with and which the government is reforming) but it is disappointing to read an extraordinary view of how national funds for education in England should be distributed.

Wallis asks why there is such a difference in funding among local authorities, noting especially differences between Cornwall and Hackney. The answer is readily available in inequality laid bare and measured.

Deprivation unequally distributed
Look at measures of poverty and inequality such as the Indices of multiple deprivation (IMD), at the incidence of free school meals and the deprivation pupil premium, at child poverty: I have put some of the public data for Cornwall and Hackney at the foot of this post for convenience. Such inequalities and deprivation matter in education; they affect a pupil’s power to take full advantage of his school; poverty constrains. For a government to disregard these vast inequalities in life when distributing national funds for education would be signally unjust and I think all councils should acknowledge this. There may well be a case for more funds for Cornwall pupils; that should be made in full cognizance of the known differences in poverty and wealth, deprivation and comfort; it should be based on the comparative needs of pupils in Cornwall.

Wallis gives several figures but does not mention at all the measures of poverty and deprivation and inequality.

I think Wallis presents a wandering argument. He is concerned about large differences in proportionate education funding among authorities and says, “Each LA [local authority] has its difficulties, but they are similar difficulties. Therefore, funding across the land should be more equal”. I think he is wrong in that those difficulties are not similar in scale and challenge or even content: look back at those measures of deprivation. However, I think there is an argument for a different model of distribution among education authorities and schools by which historic funding patterns are adjusted so that pupil needs and circumstances are better accounted for, more equal and fairer if you wish to use those terms; but the government has embarked on that adjustment as I assume Wallis knows. See the files here which set out a rational argument with distribution criteria. The government is distributing for 2015/16 an extra £350 million for this, including a share for Cornwall of a size that does not suggest significant current underfunding. A new national distribution formula will take time.

Treating unequals equally is unjust
In the next sentence his argument shifts from “more equal” funding and he writes, “The same standards and attainment levels are sought by all schools and LAs … So surely the funding should be the same?” The same? Really? Yes, really apparently, as he finishes by saying, “Maybe a solution is the government could just divide the total amount of funding available by the number of pupils and then award it that way. At least each pupil would get the same and all children are treated equally.” As Aristotle would say, all children do not have identical needs so treating them the same, treating unequals equally, is unjust.

Cornwall’s case for a fair share of public funds for public services should never be based on a narrow parochial approach; that nonsense must stop, as must unconvincing comparisons with Hackney. The case should be argued on the Aristotlean principle of taking into account and meeting various needs everywhere as fairly as possible. The Department for education are working to do that; by all means encourage it in that. The distribution of national funds in all spheres should be based firmly on recognised need and competences.

Let me finish by congratulating Wallis on recognising in his comments, what MK failed to, that the City of London with only two hundred state pupils is sui generis in education funding.

I am going to put here the comparison data for Cornwall and Hackney, Hackney being singled out in Wallis’s post (and before that by Pollard) though it is not the wisest comparator for Cornwall. The data shows how much more widespread deprivation and poverty are in Hackney than in Cornwall, a factor that should certainly figure in the fair redistribution of central government funds to local authorities. The deprivation set out here impacts on the lives of pupils and their work in school. It is very relevant to any argument about the allocation of funds to education.

I give a link to the online sources for each item. At the source there may be other tables presenting information in various ways. The figures here are the latest revisions.

Index of multiple deprivation 2010 (next IMD due summer 2015)
This is a major measure of deprivation across several components such as income and housing. From the local authority summary data I have taken the rank of average scores and the rank of average rank; in both instances the lower the number, the worse the deprivation. There are 326 local authorities in the data.
Rank of average score Cornwall 110, Hackney 2
Rank of average rank Cornwall 82, Hackney 1

Department for communities and local government (local authority summaries, 326 local authorities). The supplementary deprivation index for children by 32 482 subwards, at the same website, shows similar results.

Free school meals
Proportion of pupils eligible for and taking free school meals at January 2014 in state funded nursery and primary and secondary schools (SFR15/2014, tables 8a-b). There is also data for special schools; and pupil referral units, academies, and free schools (tables 8c-d).
Percentage of nursery and primary pupils Cornwall 13.5, Hackney 30.2
Percentage of secondary pupils Cornwall 11.9, Hackney 33.9

Department for education Child poverty

Percentage of children in poverty 2014
Before housing costs Cornwall 16.90, Hackney 27.46
After housing costs Cornwall 26.35, Hackney 41.37

End child poverty organisation Scroll to local authorities in southwest, click on Cornwall for county and ward figures. on the same website are figures for constituencies and the methodology.

Deprivation among pupils
Percentage of pupils eligible for the deprivation pupil premium 2014/15
Primary pupils Cornwall 22.8, Hackney 46.3
Secondary pupils Cornwall 25.0, Hackney 56.0

Department for education (Deprivation pupil premium by local authority). The premium for individual schools is also accessible from the same website; you need the school number which this mudhook post gives you.

Bedroom tax
How many are adversely affected by the bedroom tax? These are the percentages for November 2014, the latest available, of the applicable tenants with housing benefit who have that housing benefit reduced because of the bedroom tax/spare room subsidy and the average weekly amount lost:
Cornwall 11.6%, £14.10
Hackney 10.2%, £21.42

Department for works and pensions (DWP, Table 3)

Job seekers allowance
This is a measure of unemployment; the figures are the percentage of men and women aged 16-64 claiming job seeker’s allowance in February 2015:
Cornwall 1.6%
Hackney 3.1%

nomis official labour market statistics. Put in the local authority name

Healthcare 2014/15
Funding for local clinical commissioning groups (CCG) for hospital, community, and mental health services
Allocation per person Cornwall £1212, Hackney £1219

Department for health

Pupil characteristics
One important element for a school is whether English is a pupil’s first language. Look at the vast differences in Cornwall and Hackney, January 2014:
Percentage of state primary pupils for whom English is their first language Cornwall 97.8, Hackney 43.2
Percentage of state primary pupils for whom a language other than English is their first language Cornwall 2.2, Hackney 55.4

Percentage of state secondary pupils for whom English is their first language Cornwall 98.3, Hackney 54.4
Percentage of state secondary pupils for whom a language other than English is their first language Cornwall 1.7, Hackney 45.2

Department for education (File SFR15/2014 Local authority and regional tables, tables 10a and 10b. I shall leave you to explore table 11, primary average class sizes, for yourself.

Don’t forget to check the original sources to see the smallprint explanations.

Additional references
Actual 2014/15 local authority block unit of funding for schools: Cornwall is 95th out of 151 where 1 is best

High needs place numbers for the 2015 to 2016 academic year: includes local authority and individual school/institution pupil/student numbers

DSG allocations to local authorities 2015/16