Funding of secondary education
There are different views on the financial health of the secondary education sector. According to the Secondary Education Council, schools are just keeping their heads above water but the General Union of Education (AOB) believes the sector is in perfect health. The State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science (OCW) asked the Court of Audit to examine the adequacy of the structural funding of secondary education. Our recent audit attempted to answer why some secondary schools can manage with the funding they receive and others cannot. The purpose of our audit was to determine to what extent the financial problems faced by some schools are caused by external factors or by internal factors, and to help future-proof the sector’s financial situation.
Great variation in financial situation
School boards are funded chiefly on a lump-sum basis. This is intended to give them autonomy in how they spend the funds. In practice, the schools’ freedom is restricted by regulations and sector-wide agreements (such as the mix of functions or restrictions on subject policy). It is accordingly difficult to respond proactively to actual and foreseen cost increases. The Court of Audit found from its audit of 30 schools that that there are significant differences in how the schools cope with their autonomy. There is a lot of variation in how operational management is organised. Schools often face a combination of external and internal problems.
Mismatch between funding system and practice
The problems include simplification, consistency with cost patterns and cost developments, concerns about covering costs, the budgetary assurances school boards five to the staff, and restrictions on incidental funding. A new funding system should be introduced to improve financial planning and the allocation of funds at the level of the school boards.
Recurrent need for professionalisation
To make the sector more future-proof, further professionalisation is required of the sector’s operational management. The sector would benefit from benchmarking, information exchange using open data, learning from best practices and training courses.
We make the following recommendations to the State Secretary for OCW:
- gain an insight into operational management at micro and macro level, invest in sustainable information management for and about secondary education based on the principles of open data;
- simplify the funding system, ensure that costs are covered, remove perverse incentives, give school boards assurances on their budgets as early in the year as possible and make the least possible use of incidental funding. Ensure that a new funding system promotes the school boards’ financial planning and allocation of funds;
- consult actors in the field to determine where more flexibility can be built into laws and regulations so that schools can respond earlier and better to foreseen cost developments.
We make the following recommendations to school boards and the sector as a whole:
- encourage professionalisation of financial management;
- invest in benchmarking and the sharing of best practices.