There's Growing Anger Among Parents At School Cuts

03/03/2017 15:46
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It terrifies me to say this, but in 10 year's time, my son will be leaving school.

Over this period, the UK will set sail for the economic unknown and leave its European Union membership behind; technology too will bring further, seismic changes to the world of work.

In this context, what is the one thing that matters to today's eight year olds?

Twenty years ago, New Labour swept to power with the mantra 'education, education, education.' Ever since then, the UK has been spending an increasing proportion of its national wealth on schools and funding has largely kept pace with increasing pupil numbers and rising costs.

Even as recently as 2015, politicians felt the need to reassure parents of their commitment to education. The last Conservative Party Manifesto, published only two years ago, said 'Under a future Conservative Government, the amount of money following your child into school will be protected. As the number of pupils increases, so will the amount of money in our schools.'

All well and good, but the government of Theresa May is reneging on this promise.

According to the a report published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies this week, under current government spending plans, by the time my son is in the final year of his primary education in 2020, his school will be receiving £300 less per pupil per year. This represents a real terms annual cut of around £60,000 for his school. That is approximately one whole teacher's salary plus costs or probably a couple of valuable teaching assistants.

The picture is worse for secondary schools. According to the IFS, by 2019/20 they will face real terms cuts of £400 per pupil per year. In a report published last year, the government's own auditors, the National Audit Office, published projections that forecast an 8% real terms cut in school funding over the same period of time once unavoidable factors like increasing pupil numbers and rising costs are taken into account.

Despite its manifesto promises, the Conservative government, elected in 2015 on the promise that 'the amount of money following your child into school will be protected' is cutting funding for our children. At any moment in history, that would anger parents, but in the current political context it is reckless and shoddy.

But real terms budget cuts over the next three years are only half of the story, because on top of that, the government is also proposing to change the formula by which the funding of specific schools is determined. Their consultation proposes to shift funding away from schools in metropolitan areas and into shire counties.

Schools in cities, where educating children is often more expensive anyway, therefore face a horrific double whammy. Not only will they have to cut the NAO's estimated 8% from their core budgets, but they will also have to find further savings of up to 3% because of the changes to the funding formula.

I doubt any parent or education authority in a city is against the idea of county schools getting more funding, but to achieve this by taking money away from children in cities is truly gruesome. And the fact is that county schools will not emerge as winners anyway. They will receive a boost from the proposed funding formula change, but that will be more than wiped out by the core budget cuts.

Every child in England faces a poorer education unless the Government changes its plans fast. And every parent in England should be angry. Increasingly they are.

Campaigning groups are popping up all over the country, often led by angry and determined parents. The Department for Education faces a deluge of responses from hoards of middle class families who rightly don't want their children to be the first in two generations to face school budget cuts.

On Tuesday night, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, which has launched a valiant Support our Schools campaign, filled its largest conference room with hundreds of mums and dads from the borough. There were jeers and cheers as councillors ran through the facts and urged people to become active.

A fellow parent, playing devil's advocate, asked me whether the real terms reductions mattered now after two decades of sustained investment in schools. The answer is a simple yes.

Of course it's hard to account for every pound, but the evidence is pretty clear. It's there factually and anecdotally and in improved school leadership, better facilities and in particular in the 170,000 thousand teaching assistants who now provide indispensable support to our children - especially the most vulnerable. And it's there in the results.

Investing in schools pays and in the next decade could not be more critical. Do not let this be the government that takes education funding out of the pockets of every pupil in England. We must keep investing in our children.

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