Headteachers will be taking a particular interest to see if Phillip Hammond’s Budget on Wednesday addresses the school funding crisis in our schools and allocates additional money to the school budget. This is a real problem, with 90% of our schools affected by real terms cuts to funding.
Headteachers have written to the Prime Minister in their thousands, parents groups have sprung up to raise awareness of the issue, and the joint unions website School Cuts was instrumental in changing people’s votes during the 2017 General Election. Yet the Education Secretary and many Conservative MPs continue to deny that there is any problem whatsoever.
Nick Gibb last week berated a school in the Prime Minister’s constituency for asking parents for a £1 voluntary contribution to help pay for pens, pencils and books. He questioned whether this was the right thing to do given that some Multi Academy Chains are paying CEOs six figure sums.
Well, the answer to that is surely “do something about it.”
Nick Gibb’s second point was that schools are sitting on a £4billion surplus. Let me remind him here that official data shows almost 10,000 schools – nearly half of the total - were in deficit in 2015-16 and almost 4,000 of those had been in deficit for two years.
Those schools certainly can’t spend surpluses if they don’t have any.
Nor do these latest deficit figures take into account the effects of the current Government’s funding freeze, imposed after the 2015 General Election. This has resulted in £2.8billion in real terms being wiped from school funding, plunging yet more schools into deficit.
The Department for Education doesn’t say how much money schools should keep in reserve but accountants generally advise three months operating expenses as a target. Telling schools to spend every last penny is reckless and is simply a cover-up to avoid responsibility for the shortfall in school and college funding from Government. Some schools do still have reserves, but they are generally small and most of them already committed.
The Government must start listening and accept the fact that schools are suffering
It also leaves Mr Gibb open to the charge of hypocrisy. When in opposition he said, “Head teachers are used to money from this government coming with strings attached, but now he [Ed Balls, then Education Secretary] is attaching an elastic band. Schools which have prudently put aside funds to invest in improving our children’s futures now face a smash-and-grab raid.”
Justine Greening also continues to try and hoodwink the general public on school funding. On the 6th November the Education Secretary referred to the School Cuts website as ‘scaremongering’ and accused us of using questionable figures. Nothing could be further from the truth. The site uses her department’s own data to compare schools’ core budgets for 2015/16 and for 2019/20 as predicted under the Government’s own National Funding Formula proposals, and then takes account of rising costs in order to give a true reflection of the situation facing schools, even with the additional funding announced in September.
The figures the Education Secretary quotes use school budgets for 2017/18 as a baseline, thereby seeking to ignore the impact of her Government’s actions on funding since the 2015 election, and also present the picture only in cash terms. At a time when schools’ costs are rising, this is highly misleading.
It is funding in real terms, not in cash terms, which is the key factor in determining what happens over time on issues such as class size. The school funding crisis is real. While the additional £1.3billion funding for schools over the course of the next two years is welcome, it will not reverse the effective £2.8billion real terms cut in the value of their funding caused by the pressures of inflation and cost increases since 2015.
Our latest analysis of data published by DfE on the impact of the Department for Education’s school funding proposals has found that 90% of schools will be in receipt of less funding per pupil in real terms in 2019/20 than in 2015/16. This is actually an increase of 500 on our initial projection, which was based on the incomplete data published by DfE in September. Now that we have the complete data we can see that 17,942 schools will be expected to lose out.
This affects every constituency. Headteachers and parents the length and breadth of the country know the extent of the problem and the School Cuts lobby of Parliament on 24 October also served to demonstrate how parents, headteachers, teachers and support staff feel.
The Government must start listening and accept the fact that schools are suffering. Ahead of the Budget, we urge the Chancellor to give schools the funding they need to ensure a decent education for all children and young people. Failure to do so will have the same consequences at the ballot box in next year’s May local elections as was seen in the General Election.
Kevin Courtney is joint general secretary of the National Education Union