The Education Secretary Damian has, to his credit, displayed a growing acceptance of the difficulties faced by schools—and could be crucial to a pivot in Whitehallby Natalie Perera / March 21, 2019 / Leave a comment
School funding is the issue that refuses to go away. At a time when other domestic grievances are struggling to receive a fair hearing, the concerted call for action on funding from teachers and leaders seems to grow louder by the day.
In an unprecedented march at the beginning of the school year, hundreds of headteachers descended on Downing Street to demand an improved funding settlement, while the ‘WorthLess?’ campaign continues to gain national attention—most recently by highlighting instances of schools struggling to afford basic classroom equipment. Teaching unions claim that schools have had to reduce the number or hours of teaching staff due to funding shortages.
Despite the growing consternation from the sector and some parents, the government has confidently maintained that schools have seen record levels offunding, with spending set to rise from almost £41bn in 2017-18, to £43.5bn by 2019-20.
The government’s claims on spending levels are by no means false—but they do fail to show the whole picture. Rising inflation and pupil numbers, taken together with cuts to school sixth forms and local authority education services, mean that real-terms, per pupil funding for schools has actually declined by 8 per cent since 2009-2010.
That’s not all. With local authority budgets facing significant cuts, schools say they often have to reach well beyond their traditional remit, picking up the tab for many vital services. Spending on children’s services will have been cut by around 20 per cent per child by the end of 2019-20, meaning that schools are often assuming responsibility for early intervention and other services by default.
Recent EPI research supports claims of growing pressures on school budgets. Looking at balances—a key indicator of the financial health of schools—we found that almost one in three local authority secondary schools (30 per cent) in England were in deficit, a figure which has almost quadrupled since 2014. These worrying trends show that many schools’ vital signs are not promising.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds has, to his credit, displayed a growing acceptance of the difficulties faced by schools. With the Spending Review now set to commence before this summer’s parliamentary recess, Hinds has sought to make it very clear that he would be fighting his corner by pledging to “make the strongest possible case” to the Treasury.
Before then, and regardless of any potential future budget windfalls for schools, the DfE is likely to stick to what has become their mantra for responding to the issue…