THE BLOG

The Government Says Spending On Schools Is Protected - So Why Are Parents Kicking Up A Fuss?

12/01/2017 10:44 GMT | Updated 12/01/2017 10:44 GMT

Like many other parents, until recently, I believed that spending on schools was protected. I believed it because the Government said it. The Department for Education tells us that "the 2015 spending review recognised that transforming education is central to the Government's commitment to extending opportunity and delivering social justice. It therefore protected the national schools budget in real terms for the duration of the Parliament".

Then I visited our local secondary school open day where I heard that, from September, the class sizes will increase because of the schools funding squeeze. I went away, did some research and began speaking to my friends about it.

I quickly realised that the Government are not being entirely honest with us. Teachers and school leaders have been telling us for months that our education system is heading for a funding crisis, only to be dismissed as scaremongers. A friend who works in a primary school told me they had made one teacher redundant and had not replaced a teaching assistant who left. Another friend told me she has been asked to pay £30 a term to fund core services because her school doesn't have enough money.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies forecasted that "school spending per pupil is likely to fall by around 8 per cent in real terms between 2014/15 and 2019/20" as a result of funding not keeping up with the growing costs facing schools and rising pupil numbers. As they note, this will be the first time education spending has decreased in real-terms since the mid-1990s.

And then the National Audit Office launched a report last month that shows that "funding per pupil will, on average, rise only from £5,447 in 2015-16 to £5,519 in 2019-20, a real-terms reduction once inflation is taken into account". They conclude that the Government's attempts to deliver educational excellence everywhere must be set "against a budget that provides little more than flat cash funding per pupil over the five years to 2019-20. This means that mainstream schools need to find significant savings, amounting to £3.0 billion by 2019-20, to counteract cost pressures."

Every state school in the country is facing a worsening financial situation, with the numbers of Secondary schools spending more than their income doubling to over 60 per cent in the last five years.

Here enters the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, who has announced the implementation of a new National Funding Formula (NFF) from April 2018. A Conservative Party manifesto commitment, the NFF aims to provide the same funding formula for every pupil in the country - addressing historical imbalances that see schools in our larger cities receiving higher per pupil funding than those in other areas.

Few can argue against adjusting what appears to be an unfair system. But this comes at a price for many schools at a time when funds are tight for all. The Government's own figures show that 49 per cent of schools will be net losers of funding as a result of the NFF changes, with many losing as much as 3 per cent of their budget in the first two years - hence Conservative MPs across the country are distinctly underwhelmed that extra cash for local schools promised by the Government's new National Funding Formula is unlikely to materialise in many cases.

And, as the Times Education Supplement noted, the majority of those who are set to gain out of the NFF changes will still stand to lose out as a result of the funding reductions highlighted by the IFS and NAO.

Teaching unions' own analysis indicates that around 98 per cent of schools in England will be net losers as a result of the perfect storm of real-terms reductions, additional costs, growing pupil numbers and the impact of the National Funding Formula.

So it is pretty clear. Schools are facing a funding squeeze that is rapidly becoming a crisis. The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee says it is worse than that facing the NHS, others are predicting finances to "fall off a cliff" next year.

This is why parents are getting together to campaign for Fair Funding for All Schools.

We want to build a network of activists in communities across the country to force the Government to listen to the concerns of parents and pupils. We want fair funding, but it should not come from levelling down school spending in an already impossibly tight situation. Shifting money between schools while the entire budget is shrinking is doing no-one any favours.

We have the support of our local Head teachers, school governors, our local MP and the leader of our Council. Parents around the country are getting organised, making for a formidable campaigning force.

With their own backbenchers playing up, how long can the Government stick to funding plans that will fundamentally harm our children's education and our nation's future?