Leadership Dilemma: Can you lever change in the system through funding?


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Mel Ainscow’s assertion that there is more variation within a school than between schools ties neatly into what Professor Richard Teese had been talking about at the recent ADES conference. i.e. socially disadvantaged children’s attainment is significantly lower than their socially advantaged peers.

Ainscow talks of the challenge to “Raise the bar, and close the gap” or as I’ve explored before compress the curve and shift it to the right.

So here’s the Leadership Dilemma.


You are in a strategic leadership position within a Local Authority responsible for a wide range of schools serving the 3-18 population.  You have been asked by the government to improve the educational outcomes of more socially disadvantaged children.  You are committed to promotiong school autonomy and want to avoid the universal intervention strategy and instead wish to use the allocation of funds to schools as the lever for change. 

Your authority currently provides the vast bulk of funding to schools on a per capita basis which does not take any account of social background.  A small proportion of funding is linked to a “deprivation factor” which uses free school meal entitlement as the key indicator.

Free school meal entitlement:

Pupils entitled to free school meals are those within families who receive Income Support ( IS) or Income-based Job Seekers Allowance ( IBJSA). Those within families who receive support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 may also be entitled. Children who receive IS or IBJSA in their own right are also entitled to receive free school meals. Also entitled are children whose parents or carers receive Child Tax Credit, do not receive Working Tax Credit and have an annual income (as assessed by the Inland Revenue) of below £14,495.

Free School Meal Entitlement is a suitable indicator of relative poverty although there are a wide range of other indicators which could be used, nevertheless the collection and protection of such data would prove difficult. For further reading in this area I recommend the Scottish Indicators of Poverty and Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Scotland 2008.

Having listened to Richard Teese you want to find a way of linking funding with accountability for the achievements of more socially disadvantaged children in every school.

Using an outcome based approach the Local Authority agrees a set of outcomes which will relate to the achievement and attainment of children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The question you are faced with is how to hold schools accountable for the delivery of those outcomes and the additional funding which might be attached to their presence in the school. Here are three options which you might consider as possible solutions to the dilemma.  You are welcome to suggest any other possible alternatives.

Option 1. Money is removed from schools if agreed outcomes for disadvantaged children are not achieved.

Consequence – this seems unfair as it penalises a school and the children in that school which might already be working in difficult circumstances.

Option 2.The Headteacher/Principal is held accountable and would be an important element of judging the quality of their performance. Additional support could be put in place to help the Headteacher, which might be followed eventually by a disciplinary process.

Consequence– This would certainly focus the school leader’s attention on the issue and may indeed lead to a change in the way in which education is delivered in the school. However, it adds a significant pressure to a job which is already stressful and a simplistic analysis of figures might not demonstrate the change that has taken place in the school or a school which has been affected by other external influences.  It might also only serve to alienate schools and the authority and see them is oppositional as opposed to being in partnership.

Option 3 An Inclusion Board is established for each school.  This Board is made up of a wide range of stakeholders, e.g. parents, students, teachers, health representatives, area social workers, police officers, sports representatives, community education workers.

It would the job of the Inclusion Board to review the educational outcomes of children in the school with a specific focus upon those who receive free school meal entitlement; are in the care of the Local Authority; and those who have Additional Support for Learning needs.

The Headteacher/Principal would be accountable to the Board for those identified outcomes as agreed with the Local Authority.

Consequences – This gets things closer to the school but it could also put some pressure on the Headteacher/Principal as in Option 1. It would ensure that inclusion has a high profile in the running of the school.


One unfortunate but inevitable consequence of any change in the way in which education is delivered in the school to make it a more inclusive environment is the reaction of those who have benefited from the existing system, i.e. what if lower ability classes were given the most experienced and most effective teachers?

9 thoughts on “Leadership Dilemma: Can you lever change in the system through funding?

  1. “Using an outcome based approach the Local Authority agrees a set of outcomes ”

    Agrees with whom? Based on what?

    You could only think of holding HTs accountable in this way if they had been directly involved in identifying outcomes for the particular children in their school whose family circumstances may be markedly different from those of the children in the school along the road, and if other circumstances in the school were taken into account too.

    And then so many things might prevent the outcome being fulfilled that have nothing whatever to do with the HT. Children and families are human beings not machines you can put the right sort of oil on to make them work better.

    What sort of timescale will be allowed for the outcome to be “achieved”? Until the approach of an election perhaps? How will it be measured? Better exam results? Happier kids? Intelligent accountability would involve talking to individual families and children and who has the time to do that?

    And if the HT “fails” to deliver the outcomes, why is it the HT that is held accountable? Why is there no option in your list of the Local Authority being held accountable for imposing unrealistic expectations?

  2. Given the complex interplay of discriminations and injustices in society in terms of opportunities for housing, health, justice, wealth creation, employment for these families etc, why is the school and the headteacher being held accountable for the barriers to learning and wellbeing faced by these children?

    Where is the school that is managing to overcome all these barriers to significantly change the outcomes for groups of ‘disadvantaged’ pupils? I don’t see it happening and it will take more than a school to change what society creates. Even very inclusive practice in a school can’t achieve the outcomes of overcoming these barriers for most children – sadly…

  3. In reply to comment 2 –

    Where is the school that is managing to overcome all these barriers to significantly change the outcomes for groups of ‘disadvantaged’ pupils?

    I work in a school with a high FSM Entitlement, 22% If I remember, with many going on to Uni. and enjoying the fruits and benefits that follow, I believe good teaching and pupil attitudes to school and learning along with aspirational parents or sometimes grandparents, has this ‘outcome’. The teachers can be aspirational if there is no home version. These pupils have become – architects, product designers, graphic designers, tech teachers etc. Sometimes these pupils have become turned on by enjoying a subject, been inspired etc.

    The school above has had higher than avg. Higher and Adv Higher pass rates for years, in fact ‘beat’ the Indp. Schools pass rates for all Adv Highers last year.

    Pupil and Teacher working setup is the key. Not always income.

    Maybe the school above has started the ‘journey’ to remove barriers, irespective of the LEA funding and policies.


  4. Using an outcome based approach the Local Authority agrees a set of outcomes which will relate to the achievement and attainment of children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

    This is a target which appears to have been agreed without any consideration of the capability of the system. That’s an approach likely to have unintended adverse consequences elsewhere, as it leads to gaming.

    Perhaps an alternative quality-based approach would be to examine the results achieved by the system as it is now; see how consistent they are; start to think about why the results might vary, and look for ways to improve the system to achieve more consistently good results?

  5. The provision of health based services has similar dilemmas when trying to address inequality and social justice. For example, mainstream primary care services (G.Ps and associated services) are distributed on an ‘equitable’ basis according to population size. Yet it is well known that a deprived community will have a greater burden of ill health (two – three times prevalence) and therefore has a greater demand on the available service. The net result of providing an ‘equitable’ service to different communities is that the community with better health has access to a service with less pressure on it – providing a better quality service and better outcomes. Hence this ‘equitable’ distribution of primary care may be a driver in the trend to increasing inequality in health outcomes between social classes.

    If we provide a standardised service to communities with different needs we really shouldn’t be surprised when we get different outcomes. If we keep on delivering services in the same way we will not alter the simple fact that outcomes in health and education are strongly predicted by parental income / social class.

    Inequality in outcomes of health and education represents what the Chief Medical Officer Harry Burns calls a ‘wicked problem’. Such problems have multiple interlocking causes and therefore do not have easy answers, are not amenable to quick fixes and can only be addressed effectively on multiple fronts. The good news is that human beings are good at solving wicked problems, because we can think creatively and learn from experience and our mistakes. It seems to me that Don’s options wrestle with the challenge of providing room for creativity in addressing a difficult problem whilst also meeting the need to ensure that school are accountable for the service that they provide.

    Do the options Don has outlined create the space for schools to be creative about meeting the needs of their particular communities whilst being accountable for improving educational outcomes? I don’t know but my belief is that one option is not going to be enough. Certainly in regard to health inequality we don’t yet know enough to be confident about any particular option or set of options.

    The outcome I would like to see is one that allows schools to try the options that seem best to them for working on the problems of inequality with the communities they serve. As a maths teacher once told me ‘its more important to me that you try your best and show your workings than it is to get the answer right – because that way I know you’re learning’. Perhaps head teachers can be held to account by showing their working on the problem of equity rather than just the final outcomes.

  6. I think your last idea is very interesting Steven and I would welcome such interrogation of our working out. However we absolutely need some resources to do that working out on. Fortunately, FME in my school of 70% gives us around 3.8 teachers’ salaries extra through my authority’s Positive Action budgets. We decide how to use that money collegiately and our priorities are debated with grit and determination from all staff to overcome barriers to pupil learning and nurture. This has impacted on attainment quite a lot over 5 years. We are sure that without this funding, we could not ‘lever change in our system’. However, we are also deeply aware that there is a glass ceiling for improvement and we have a feeling that we are reaching it.

    Breadth of experience and the language enrichment that goes with it is the missing link for so many of our pupils. To attain in the way Scottish Society expects (ie 5-14 assessment in primaries and the 4 capacities of C for E) requires a level of language that many of our pupils can’t reach. That coupled with their diminished experiences and opportunities are more than a school can change entirely alone. Interestingly, a recent TES article spoke of how the middle class bent for after school enrichment classes contribute significantly to the attainments and achievements of those pupils, widening the gap even further.

    This sounds like I see our community in a deficit way. I don’t. There is, for example, a wealth of community and extended family loyalty and support here that is an achievement not recognised by our education system or found in other parts of society.

    It’s a complex question we wrestle daily with.

  7. Hi Sheilia
    I think there is lots of good practise in addressing inequality but often it is in isolated pockets and inspired by exceptional and dedicated people. The challenge for policy is to move the good practise into the mainstream and support it in a way that is achievable by people who do their jobs well, but are not exceptional .ie. most of us.
    That will take resources as well as new ways of doing things. As you suggest it will also take a response from a range of agencies – if raising attainment is seen only as the responsibility of teachers and schools then we will fail to break the cycle of inequality passing from one generation to the next.

    In a previous post you mentioned the work on ’emotional intelligence’ that your school has developed – how much do you think this has contributed to raising attainment? I am not a teacher, but I do think this kind of work has a great deal to offer in equiping children from a very young age with the kind of skills that are needed to learn successfully.

    Steven Wray

  8. Hi Steven, we opened our school 5 years ago from a troubled beginning of 2 schools that were made to merge and didn’t want to. At the very start, just after we unpacked, we had a whole staff training on Emotional Literacy. In those days, the tune from the piper was only about attainment. Emotional Literacy seemed to encapsulate the whole purpose of learning and was about nurturing and equipping children to be whole well rounded individuals who could be strong alone, in groups and contribute to society and who had the skills to cope with a changing world.
    So we, as a whole staff, embraced EL and every system, initiative and aspect of school life was founded on EL principles. Then came the Emotional Literacy Curriculum, Creating Confident Kids, that you have heard of before.
    I believe it’s been key in raising attainment in Forthview, along with strong partnership with parents and carers and a strong focus on learning. How can I say which of these 3 strands has had which impact? I can’t but altogether they have built a strong nurturing and learning community.
    Thank you for your interest.

  9. Hi Don

    Just got around to reading your last few posts. A couple of ideas! re:’responsible for a wide range of schools serving the 3-18 population’.

    Thinking back to your earlier post on attachment and the conversation I had with you then about the earliest years of children’s lives 0-5. How about an emphasis on pre- school and Children’s centre type models, based on supporting local populations (particularly in areas where life and raising children to become happy and confident little people is a struggle)? Olivebank provides some of this (very well) in East Lothian but is on a very small scale. How much gain might be had by directing the funding towards community based, de stigmatised parental support for parents of children under 5 and their children for example?

    Could you guess from this that I have moved to a post concentrating on ‘early years’ 0-6? Can I suggest that you talk to your early years colleagues and staff at Olivebank Children’s centre about where to direct funding? I suspect that there will be lots of ideas!

    Happy Christmas to all ex colleagues.

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