Writing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer today (22 October), NGA has urged the government to make an urgent investment in the education of children and young people in the upcoming autumn budget (29 October).
The letter comes a month after the publication of NGA's School Governance in 2018 report which evidences that school governors and trustees, the volunteers responsible for the financial oversight of their schools and academy trusts, are finding it increasingly difficult to manage funding pressures without negatively impacting pupils’ education.
As a result of these funding pressures, the letter says, "governing boards of both academies and maintained schools are being forced to make difficult decisions, compromising quality of education in order to balance the budget."
Recently criticised by the UK Statistics Authority, the government's line that education spending is at a record level "rings hollow for those on the frontline who are unable to look away from the real experiences of pupils in our schools", the letter adds.
In closing, NGA urges that "funding for education should be viewed as an investment in our collective future, rather than a cost, and a population equipped for the future is needed now more than ever. On behalf of a quarter of a million ordinary people volunteering their time and skills to govern schools across England, I ask you to make this investment in your budget."
In repsonse to the ongoing concerns of school governors and trustees on school funding, NGA continues to deliver its Funding the Future campaign.
The letter in full:
Dear Mr Hammond,
I am writing on behalf of tens of thousands of members of the National Governance Association, the national membership organisation for governors and trustees in state funded schools in England (including maintained schools and all types of academies) to ask you to use the autumn budget to make urgent investment in the education of children and young people.
School governors and trustees are responsible for the financial oversight of their schools and academy trusts. Individuals commit to this significant voluntary role for one reason more than any other – to make a difference to children – but more and more they tell us that their efforts are frustrated by insufficient funding.
In a survey of over five thousand governors and trustees conducted in the summer term of 2018, almost three quarters told us that they are unable to manage funding pressures without negatively impacting pupils’ education.
It is clear to see why. The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has calculated that total school spending per pupil has fallen by 8% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2017-18. This is in part due to a 55% cut in local authority spending on services for schools and cuts of over 20% to sixth form funding.
Funding per pupil at primary and secondary schools has been squeezed over recent years: the IFS has calculated that schools experienced a real terms cut of around 4% between 2015-16 and 2017-18. The additional funding provided by the Department for Education in July 2017 and July 2018 means a real terms freeze from 2017-18 to 2019-20. Meanwhile, schools face rising costs and higher expectations.
As a result, governing boards of both academies and maintained schools are being forced to make difficult decisions, compromising quality of education in order to balance the budget. Schools have already made significant cuts due to financial constraints, including to staff: 64% of survey respondents governing secondary schools and 43% of those governing primary schools had reduced the number of support staff. For teaching staff, the figures were 55% and 22% respectively. Class sizes had increased in 42% of secondary schools and 18% of primary schools.
Significant numbers of pupils will be affected not only by reducing numbers of staff and bigger classes but by reductions in the number of subjects and qualifications on offer: our survey showed that this is a particularly acute problem in secondary schools, as 55% had reduced the number of subjects and 41% had reduced the number of qualifications available to pupils. The loss of extra-curricular opportunities is another consequence of funding pressure and our survey suggests that it is particularly likely to affect schools serving pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.
The loss of local authority services is affecting pupils in all types of schools. In our survey, 72% of governors and trustees agreed that these cuts had had an adverse effect in their school and the figure was almost as high for academies as for local authority maintained schools. This shows that all schools rely on their local authority to provide essential specialist services for the most vulnerable pupils in their school. If schools are now expected to meet these needs from core budgets, appropriate funding and frameworks must be put in place.
Cuts to school sixth forms are also having a dramatic effect on the options available to learners post-16, with two thirds of our survey respondents governing sixth forms telling us that the number of subjects on offer had been reduced. NGA supports the Raise the Rate campaign for an increase in the funding rate for post-16 education in all settings.
Governors and trustees take seriously their duty to ensure that schools are using money well and NGA has worked with the Department for Education and others to help governing boards improve their schools’ financial efficiency. However, there is only so much that can be done when the overall funding is insufficient.
The government’s mantra that school spending is at record levels, criticised by the UK Statistics Authority for failing to take into account rising pupil numbers and costs, rings hollow for those on the frontline who are unable to look away from the real experiences of pupils in our schools. These quotes from governors and trustees illustrate the depth of frustration many feel:
“The constant battle to make ends meet is demoralising for staff, school leaders and governors. To not be able to offer children what we feel we need to is criminal.”
“Too much has been stripped away and if we don't act now, this is going to have a knock on effect when it comes to future skills sets, health of the population, and our ability to compete both locally and overseas.”
“It feels like each year we are trying to do more with less and I worry the education of our children and the well-being of our teachers will suffer.”
“Nothing else will improve without the necessary funding and keeping the staff that is needed in schools to provide the support the children need.”
“[The government should] recognise the importance of investing in our children to ensure the future for all aspects of society is productive.”
Current estimates are that an additional £2 billion is needed this year, accompanied with at least £1.5 billion to plug gaps in high needs funding. Funding for education should be viewed as an investment in our collective future, rather than a cost, and a population equipped for the future is needed now more than ever. On behalf of a quarter of a million ordinary people volunteering their time and skills to govern schools across England, I ask you to make this investment in your budget.
Emma Knights OBE
cc. Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP, Secretary of State for Education