Can unity amongst campaigners finally deliver a satisfactory funding settlement for schools and colleges, asks Steven George, NAHT Head of External Relations and Primary School Governor
With all schools in the grip of a funding crisis, it is good to see leaders and governors on the same page; everyone agrees that the Treasury must step in now and urgently provide additional money.
Where funding is concerned, NGA has made the case passionately but professionally, which means the message from governors and trustees is becoming impossible to ignore.
NAHT, the school leaders’ union, has been happy to work alongside NGA, and their nine asks for school funding match our own. NAHT has 29,000 members and represents leaders in the majority of schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Clearly, what unites everyone is the future of young people.
From one generation to the next we’ve always been taught to expect that our children will have a better life experience than we did. In 2019, I’m not so sure. I have two daughters in school. I’m worried for them. There are 170 children in the school where I’m a governor and I worry for them too.
Our school is a single intake primary academy. As such, I believe that we are just about the most high-risk type of school that exists. We have no MAT around us. We have only cursory support from the local authority. We have taken steps to work informally with other schools around us, but none of this work, although worthwhile, provides the answer to the single biggest question we face; funding.
Our school prides itself in its inclusivity and we are gaining a reputation for doing good things for pupils with additional needs. Yet SEND funding currently disadvantages the most inclusive schools. Like many other schools, we face an uphill battle.
NAHT’s Empty Promises report, published at the start of this academic year, showed that only 2% of schools felt that top-up funding for SEND pupils was adequate.
83% of schools were not receiving any funding from health and social care budgets to support pupils with additional needs and EHCPs.
Our system is failing the most vulnerable, at the most critical time in their lives.
The government urgently needs to get a grip on the balkanised system that it has created. All the advice and guidance the DfE has provided is next to useless, and certainly doesn’t address the scale of the deficits that we are facing.
I really worry about the long-term financial sustainability of small standalone schools.
NAHT’s annual Breaking Point survey of school budgets found that 71% of schools were only balancing their budgets by making cuts or dipping into reserves.
A worry for me is around what things – or people, if we’re honest – are being cut. TA hours and positions are being cut by 66% of schools. CPD and training budgets are down to a few hundred pounds for a whole school.
We are hollowing out experience and capacity at a time when pupil numbers a rising, and their needs seem greater than ever.
I’d much rather that the volunteer army of school governors like me were using their energies and brains on making leaps forward rather than mitigating the adverse impact of cuts and austerity.
We’ve spent a lot of time recently consulting with parents about raising class sizes, starting in Reception. Part of this is because we are an inclusive school and we have waiting lists for all our classes, but we wouldn’t necessarily have gone down this path but for the funding crisis. We are doing it to make sure we can pay the bills and keep the lights on.
The House of Commons Library has produced an excellent resource, which shows the funding position by constituency. Where our school is, per pupil funding has fallen by 7.2% from 2013/14 to 2018/19 – from £4,359 to £4,045. The numbers don’t lie.
MPs do seem to be waking up to this issue. In a poll conducted by NAHT and ComRes, 54% of MPs were prepared to say that there was a funding crisis.
This crosses party lines. Robert Halfon and Meg Hiller, of Conservative and Labour respectively, secured a backbench business debate on funding. MPs will debate funding again, thanks to a petition which reached 100k signatories. This was started by an NAHT member in the North East but has since gone nationwide.
Governors, parents, staff, and school leaders have ben banging the drum for more funding for more than two years now. Some money has been forthcoming - £1.3bn repurposed from other bits of the DfE budget, £400m for ‘Little Extras’, and numerous smaller sums to support bits and pieces of policy here and there. This would not have happened without our intervention. But it is nothing for the government to be proud of.
And, if we truly going to make a difference for the young people we care about, we have to get more MPs to make the kind of noise that we have made.
To MPs, I would say this: Take an interest. Don’t wait for schools to come to you with their troubles. Go and visit a few. Ask them about their experiences. Attend the debates in Parliament and ask intelligent questions.
The more you understand about this issue, the more inescapable the reality becomes: Only new money from the Treasury will solve the school funding crisis.