On Tuesday 26 February, MPs discussed the overall schools budget in an ‘estimates day’ debate in the House of Commons. The House of Commons sets aside 'estimates days' each year on which to consider the estimates of public spending by government departments. MPs from across the house raised funding concerns in a wide-ranging debate which touched on spending in schools, academies and multi-academy trusts, teacher recruitment and retention, funding for Ofsted, further education and higher education, early years and special educational needs.
The debate was opened by Meg Hillier MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch and chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). She outlined that: “we were concerned that the department [for education] did not really have a grip on what the impact of efficiency savings would be, particularly on staff. It did not know what the impact would be in the classrooms and on the teaching in schools that had already found those efficiency savings, or on the outcomes for children.”
Robert Halfon MP for Harlow and chair of the Education Select Committee called for the government to formulate a 10-year strategic plan for school funding, similar to the NHS, and highlighted his concern that: “the last spending review settlement failed to foresee the cumulative impact of rising pupil numbers and several smaller factors—some of them explicit policy initiatives—that led to the 8% of unmet cost pressures on school budgets over the following year or so.”
Contributions from several MPs drew on local intelligence gathered in meetings with parents, head teachers, teachers and governing boards.
Layla Moran MP for Oxfordshire East and Abingdon, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for education and school governor at Botley Primary School in Oxfordshire stated that: “as governors, we focus heavily on school funding. In my local area, a school recently wrote to parents to ask for pencils and pens because it cannot afford them. Another school—I will not mention which one—is consulting, quietly and behind the scenes, on going down to a four-day week, because it cannot afford to keep its teachers at full-time level; if it did, it would have to start going into severe deficits.
Anna Turley MP for Redcar outlined that “a number of parents have come to my surgeries and expressed great concern about school cuts, and a large number of head teachers and governors have come to me in groups to tell me about the distress that they feel because they cannot continue to deliver the standard of education that they have been used to delivering, and that our children need.”
Tim Loughton MP for East Worthing and Shoreham highlighted the need to meaningfully translate large statistics and figures into their impact on the frontline. He said “I have spent the past couple of years getting all the heads from all the schools in my constituency and all the chairs of governors together to ask them about the impact of funding challenges on their schools.” He cited “not replacing staff or replacing them with less expensive and therefore less qualified staff, of having to remove things from the curriculum, and of doing away with out-of-school visits. Alarmingly, counselling services have also been reduced—almost to zero in some cases—at a time when we all know the effect of mental health stresses on the younger generation.”
Will Quince MP for Colchester said: “having met those teachers, headteachers, governors and parents, I find that we are asking our schools to do more than ever before and that is putting unbelievable pressure on teachers.” The many rising cost pressures on schools included “providing support and intervention for children with specific learning difficulties; mental health issues; employer pension contributions; the national living wage; ... the rising cost of utilities; the apprenticeship levy; the growing cost of appeals; the costs of changing to multi-academy trusts; staff development; staff recruitment; and of course the teachers’ pay award”. Mr Quince went on to reference NGA’s asks for school funding, details of which can be found here.
The full ‘estimates day’ debate on education funding is available to read and watch here.
NGA’s week of action on school funding is underway and we encourage you to contact your MP to share your experiences of the impact of funding pressures on your school including the difficult decisions the governing board is making. You can also invite your MP to visit your school and see for themselves the impact on children in their constituency.
The next MP debate on school funding is scheduled for Monday 4 March.