The school funding crisis is not about “little extras”

02/11/2018 13:49:25 | with 0 comments

Author: Fay Holland, senior policy officer at the National Governance Association

The Chancellor presented his autumn budget to parliament on Monday (29 October) and the speech included a scrap for schools:

“I recognise that school budgets often do not stretch to that extra bit of kit that would make such a difference. So today I am announcing a £400 million in-year bonus to help our schools buy the little extras they need – a one-off capital payment directly to schools, averaging £10,000 per primary school and £50,000 per secondary school.”

Any additional funding for schools is, of course, to be welcomed but £400 million of capital funding is just a drop in the ocean: the NAO’s 2017 report on capital funding for schools highlighted that it would cost £6.7 billion to bring all school buildings to a condition that was ‘satisfactory’ or better. And this is before we consider the crisis in revenue funding for staff costs and the day-to-day running of a school: the f40 have estimated that the current funding shortfall in schools is £2 billion per year. The pretence that the issue is simply not being able to afford “that extra bit of kit” will fool few.

We know that many schools have already had to make cuts in order to stay afloat – not to “extras” but to core provision: the results of our annual school governance survey showed that almost two thirds of secondary schools had already reduced the number of support staff and over half had reduced the number of subjects on offer to make ends meet. So it’s no surprise that just one in five respondents said they would be able to manage the financial pressure they were under without adversely affecting the quality of education pupils receive.

At our autumn regional meetings and conferences, we’ve been asking members about the financial situation in their schools and the measures they have taken in response to financial pressures. Again, the responses profoundly illustrate that, for many schools, “little extras” are a distant memory as they find themselves with little choice but to cut back on staff, the curriculum and vital support services for children and young people.

There was particular concern that high needs funding for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities is simply not enough to give these pupils the support they need. Many of the governors and trustees we’ve spoken to have expressed frustration with the process of getting additional funding for a pupil and the inadequacy of funding they do receive. The f40 has estimated that an immediate injection of at least £1.5 billion per year is needed to resolve the current crisis in high needs funding.

The underfunding of post-16 education puts extra pressure on the budgets of schools with sixth forms: the IFS has calculated that school sixth form funding has fallen by over 20% between 2009-10 and 2017-18. Post-16 education is clearly not a “little extra” but it is something schools and colleges are struggling to afford – see Tom Fellows’ recent blog on the Raise the Rate campaign.

In this context, it’s easy to see why the manner of the Chancellor’s reference to “little extras” has gone down badly. Like many others, NGA was less than impressed with the attempt to dismiss the very real concerns of governors, trustees, parents, teachers and school leaders in this way. The cross-party Public Accounts Committee has described the announcement as an “insult to pupils and parents”, while the National Education Union said that it reveals “the depth of his ignorance on school funding” and the Association of School and College Leaders said that it demonstrates “a complete misunderstanding of the prevailing funding pressures”.

Ahead of next year’s comprehensive spending review, NGA will continue campaigning for meaningful investment in education and providing a platform for governing boards to make their voices heard. Keep an eye on the Funding the Future campaign page for resources and opportunities to get involved.

Speaking to governors and trustees over the past year or so, there was already a strong sense of frustration with the rhetoric coming out of government on the topic of school funding. The Chancellor has only added fuel to this fire.

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