School Improvement Fund 'not 'entirely fit-for-purpose', according to report

A new report evaluating the School Improvement Fund process warns of a conflict of interest and whether funding was given where it was most needed

In November 2016, the £140m Strategic School Improvement Fund was announced by the DfE to support primary, secondary, middle, all through, alternative provision and
special academies and maintained schools, and pupil referral units.
The new report – Strategic school improvement fund: process evaluation of round one (summer 2017) – found, overall, the process proved to have ‘the building blocks’ in place to progress towards a more successful fulfilment of its aims, it is not ‘entirely fit-for-purpose’.
The report says: ‘…we cannot be sure that resources were targeted at the schools most in need of improving school performance and pupil attainment.’
Further, the report highlights regional variations: ‘Certain practices in certain regions, whilst not necessarily representative of the whole process, do raise important concerns in relation to the fairness and transparency with which funds were allocated as part of round one. These include certain applicants being in a better position to succeed as a result of receiving support or resources to prepare applications that other applicants did not know were available or how to access.’
Intended to build a ‘school-led system’, it aims to target schools most in need of improvement – in terms of performance and pupil attainment.
The first round of applications to the fund opened April 21, 2017, and closed June 23, 2017 and saw approximately 200 applications, with individual application values ranging between £100,000 and £500,000 for medium to long-term improvement support starting and finishing sometime between September 2017 and March 2019.
The report – Strategic school improvement fund: process evaluation of round one (summer 2017), published April 2018 – evaluated the process followed departments, applicants and stakeholders seeking to:

  • provide insight into how, and to what extent stakeholders worked together to agree on improvement needs for the area;
  • understand any barriers or challenges that stakeholders faced in working together, and how they overcame them;
  • identify what worked well and what was problematic;
  • understand the key information sources used to identify schools in need of support; and
  • identify any ‘quick wins’ for rounds two and three that can make the process less burdensome, and explore if and how these could be replicated in other areas.

Read the report in full

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