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Government La La Land Fails To Hide The Damage To Our Schools

01/03/2017 15:25

One of the most exasperating things facing anyone who raises questions over government policy is our political leaders' wilful avoidance of facts presented in the real world.

We see it in the NHS these days. Despite hospital trusts running up massive deficits, waiting lists going up, A&E targets being missed, staff pointing to dangerous shortages and safety worries, the Prime Minister continues to trot out meaningless and discredited claims of record funding levels and dubious savings targets.

As with the health service, so with schools funding - the next big crisis according to the BBC.

Heads, governors and parents across England are flagging up the destructive impact that the government's real terms pupil funding reductions are having in our schools. Reading this heart-breaking letter from Mary Sandell, retiring from her Headteacher post in Wokingham, and you see the genuine distress among dedicated education professionals forced to sack staff, increase class sizes and cut subjects due to the unsustainable financial pressure our schools are under.

Yet no amount of evidence presented by schools, parents, councillors or MPs will get education Ministers to shift very far from their automated response that schools are receiving record money and that this can all be managed through magical efficiency savings.

Look at any utterance by schools minister Nick Gibb MP on the subject of funding and you won't find much deviation from the two stock responses he has on constant repeat. He aired these at the Education Select Committee last month. First, "we have protected school funding in real terms across the Spending Review period" followed closely by "we are providing advice and support to schools about how to manage a budget in the most efficient way".

The first of those statements was effectively put to bed this week by the Institute of Fiscal Studies report that showed that, yes, per pupil funding was going down under the current government. A point previously made by the National Audit Office who point to a £3bn funding shortfall by 2020 and even the Permanent Secretary at the DFE who backed this up stating to MPs that "the government has protected funding of schools overall in real terms, but not per pupil."

But what about the claim that the government is showing Head teachers the way to manage those cuts through greater efficiency with no detrimental impact on their schools?

The Department for Education has a helpful page on its website where it lists a bunch of schools that are models for the rest to follow. If all schools could be like this, there would be no problem - so goes the wishful group think among ministers and senior civil servants.

The Weald School in West Sussex is one of the schools cited. The DFE points to how Head teacher Peter Woodman has taken "a data-informed and curriculum-led approach to staff planning" which "enables him and his senior leadership team (SLT) to make strategic curriculum changes to help pupils, in spite of a tight budget and recruitment challenges".

Sounds pretty nifty. But Peter tells a bit of a different story himself. This is what he said at the recent Head Teachers Round Table conference "Despite all our cuts my in year deficit next year is still £230,000. We have cut our Senior Leadership Team by 27%. Whilst we are "surviving" it is at a cost. I now teach 2 year 11 science groups and 1 year 10 GCSE groups.... about 1.5 days per week equivalent. We do not wish to sustain what we are doing now for much longer."

Cutting your senior leadership team, forcing Heads to teach rather than manage and still being unable to balance the books doesn't sound like a sustainable way to advise our schools to go in the long run. The blindingly obvious point that the government refuses to acknowledge is that with 80 per cent of school costs coming from staffing, there is no way to achieve £3bn worth of savings without cutting teachers, support staff and the services they provide.

Which is why the evidence we see as parents in our schools shows a narrowing curriculum, overworked teachers spending more time in front of class rather than preparing, marking and feeding back to pupils, leadership teams cut to the bone, pastoral care and support services jettisoned and teaching and support staff looking at redundancies.

Nick Gibb might think if he repeats a lie enough times people will start to believe it but he's fooling none of us.

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