2019 will go down as the year that the perilous state of school budgets became a national debate. NGA has been at the forefront of this debate and has been united with governors and trustees in the utter determination to get the message across to the treasury about the challenges they are facing to balance the books. Our lobby on school funding held in the palace of Westminster in February is, to date, NGA’s most public, concerted campaigning activity.
The billions of additional funding announced by the chancellor in September was an important moment for all those in the sector who have been campaigning for investment in our schools. Here was the government finally recognising that school funding is in crisis and responding with a very significant increase (£7.1 billion) over the next three years.
NGA were amongst the many professional bodies to welcome the announcement at the same time as pointing out that cash starved schools and trusts would not be receiving until next year money that they really need now.
So where does the announcement leave NGA’s campaign to produce the additional funding that you have told us is needed? Have the countless, heartfelt stories from those who govern about what the funding constraints actually mean for pupils helped to secure the required investment?
If you view the funding announcement against NGA’s 9 funding asks of the government you will see that progress has been made. The core budget for schools has increased by more than £2.3 billion per-year over the next three years, more money is going into SEND, early years and 16-19 provision. NGA welcomed the announcement of funding over three years (this should, at least in theory, remove some of the uncertainty from financial planning that governing boards have had to face in recent times) as well as the government’s renewed commitment to implementing the National Funding Formula, albeit without a legislative timetable to back it up.
The reality however is that it is not enough nor does it address directly the cuts in spending per pupil on services provided by local authorities at a time when society expects more of its schools than ever before.
Whilst presumptions of inflation and cost increases faced by schools do differ, it is fair to say that rising costs are going to result in a number of schools facing real terms cuts to their budgets next year. According to analysis carried out by the National Education Union, pupil funding in 2020 will be higher than its 2015 level in real terms in just 18 of the 533 parliamentary constituencies (3 per cent) in England. This is not good news for governing boards, in particular the three quarters of respondents to NGA’s annual survey in 2019 who said that they are not confident that funding pressures can be managed without any adverse impact upon the quality of education provided.
The £700 million additional funding for high needs (our most vulnerable pupils) is insufficient compared to the £1.2 billion that the Local Government Association estimates the High Needs budget will be overspent by next year. The £400 million increase in spending per student on further education and sixth forms in 2020/21 does not raise the per-student rate to the level (£4760) that the House of Commons Education Committee have previously called upon the government to deliver.
The funding crisis has been recognised but it has certainly not been dealt with. NGA is clear about this and that our funding campaign work will continue both during and following the general election. However, it will do so with a renewed focus on the areas that are under most pressure (high needs, early years and 16-19 funding), on making the most effective use of what we have and ensuring financial sustainability.
As always we encourage you to share your experiences of funding direct with us. We want to hear from those who govern in all types of schools in all parts of the country about where our campaigning focus should lie.