Updated 5th February 2019, taking into account new published data from the DfE.
Having spoken out on education funding for nearly 2 years now, both in Cumbria and beyond, I still get asked if it really is all that bad? This is part of the problem, as many Head Teachers are generally positive, glass half full people. We are nearly always smiling on the outside and fuelled by optimism and believe it will be alright. Our natural problem-solving traits and ‘let’s get on with it approach,’ means just that. We get by and make the best of every situation. However deep down, under the smile at the school gate, we are amidst a funding crisis which is impacting on our school communities, school staff and ultimately the pupils we serve.
The Department for Education and government ministers refute that there is a funding crisis, and often spin the lines of; ‘We have injected record levels of funding into the system,’ and ‘all talk of a crisis is nothing more than scaremongering by trade unions.’ Looking at these typical replies, they are interesting but allow me to answer these in turn.
Claim- School funding is at record levels.
– TRUE, but this is only because there are more pupils than ever before. Therefore funding will go up with rising pupil numbers.
The DfE put out a tweet on Sept 28th 2018, stating ‘there is more money going into our schools than ever before.‘ However, the DfE was’ quickly rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority1 for deliberately miss-leading. However, the damage is already done and public perception is swayed by a government keen to misrepresent the facts, to suit their political narrative.
What the DfE won’t share is that using their own workforce census data 2 and the pupil census data3, it shows that between 2010-2017, a total of 643,000 more pupils have entered the school-based system. This is the true reason for record levels of funding.
The DfE also won’t share that during the last 12 months we have an additional 66,000 pupils whilst a reduction of:
- 5,400 teachers,
- 2,800 TA’s,
- 2,600 Support staff.
-again this is calculated using the DfE data set.
Claim – All talk of a crisis is scaremongering by the unions
– FALSE. Unfortunately for the government, this is indeed false and highlighted by many individuals and organisations who use the government’s own data to highlight the true impact of government policy choices. For example, The National Audit Office (NAO) report4 discussing the financial viability of schools’ states that due to cost pressures the nations school system faces a real term loss of £3bn equating to an 8% cut to school budgets in real terms by 2019-2020.
This is further supported by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (Sept 2018)5 indicating that spending has been cut by 8% in real terms since 2010. This is even with a redistribution of £1.3bn added to the schools’ block by the DfE. Note the DfE and senior ministers refer to this as additional funding for education. However, this is factually incorrect and is a redistribution of existing DfE funding.
This is even further supported by the House of Commons Library6, which produced a report (Nov 2018) to inform MPS as to the true extent of Education including funding. Which again concludes an 8% reduction in real terms funding.
So, by using the government’s analysis of school and that of the respected Institute of Fiscal Studies, we can conclude that this is not scaremongering at all, but hard facts from analysing the government’s own data.
New Funding Formula
Before we move the discussion forward, I hear cries from people saying that the new funding formula will sort this out… Interestingly, many head teachers support the new funding formula as an idea. The aim of the formula is to ensure there is fairness between different regions, and to ensure each child gets the same amount of initial funding, regardless of where they live. Currently, we have a situation nationally where there is a disparity of funding which remains a postcode lottery. This is best explained using the pizza analogy… The aim of the new formula is to ensure that all the money in education is shared out fairly and equally. Imagine if the national schools’ budget was a pizza, it is only right that everyone gets the same sized slice. The real problem is not the slicing up of the pizza equally, it is that the pizza just isn’t big enough!
Increased costs for schools
So, the government evidence is unequivocal – a reduction of money in real terms. This may seem bad enough, however, we need to add to this the increased running costs.
These are some of the main factors that school leaders are now having to find money for:
- Annual pay increase per staff member which is not fully funded year on year.
- Introduction and implementation of the Apprentice Levy.
- Increase in national insurance contributions.
- Increase in employer pension contributions.
- Increase in external services contracts such as cleaning, wages, HR, etc.
All of these amount to an increase in school spending, whilst at the same time funding is reduced.
Head Teachers and governors have to decide how to find the money to fund these additional pressures.
But what can we do about this? I have spoken to many school leaders who have written directly to their MPs to challenge the government on the issue of funding. Like so many others, I have been told that the information we (those speaking out) are using, via websites such as http://www.schoolcuts.org.uk is misleading and not helpful to the public narrative. Luckily for MPs and the electorate, the House of Commons7 has produced their own version of up to date education funding data to ensure the information in the public domain is correct.
My own constituency data, using the government’s website, shows a reduction of £395 per pupil since 2013/14. this is equal to an 8.3% cut, equivalent to £1.3m taken out of Carlisle schools.
So, if I am scaremongering, MPs need to challenge the NAO, IFS, HoC Library, the DfE and Parliament UK as all the data comes direct from them – MPs should take these bodies to task not head teachers, school-based staff, parents and governors who are speaking out.
Impact of Government Policy
But how will this impact on individual schools? This is interesting and every school will deal with this separately, based on their own circumstance. However, having spoken to many head teachers from across the whole County and beyond, there are some frequent responses. Typically, I hear some schools saying that they are reducing staffing levels – both teachers and support staff to make the books balance. Other schools are losing curriculum subjects; some schools are increasing class sizes. Many schools are reviewing and the shelving essential building repairs and projects to improve the educational environment. The overall outcome is a reduction in frontline services, or more bluntly – larger classes with less support and fewer curriculum choices in more run-down schools.
We should not accept this for our children. Whilst these government-imposed cuts are causing stress and worry to school-based staff, and whilst their workload is increasing due simply to having less staff in school and greater class sizes, the biggest impact is to the pupils themselves, often it is the most vulnerable pupils who suffer the most. As an educationalist, I cannot accept that this is right.
Whether you believe in a capitalist model or socialist model of how society should function, or even if your view is somewhere in the middle of these opposing views. All models of how we need to run as a society rely on a successful education system. As it is this generation of children that we will be relying upon to fulfil the jobs of tomorrow. We need to get this right as our future depends on this. This generation of children should not be treated with antipathy and viewed as a burden on the treasury, but they should be given every opportunity to succeed for everyone to benefit.
2) DfE work force census – https://tinyurl.com/y7up8ool
3) DfE Pupil census – https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/719226/Schools_Pupils_and_their_Characteristics_2018_Main_Text.pdf
4) National Audit Office Report – https://tinyurl.com/ybvcuvz2
5) IFS Report – https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/13306
7) HoC Library of school cuts –