Squeeze on educational finance continues

4 Jan

In biblical times, seven years of plenty were followed by seven years of famine.  However, in Britain’s educational scene, the periods of time have been that much longer.   In 1997 when Labour was elected with thunderous applause, Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, pledged that his three priorities for the foreseeable future was to be Education, Education, Education.

However, the international financial crash in 2008, 11 years later, saw the start of a period of financial famine that has continued ever since – 11 years on.  Schools and colleges continue to experience the after-shocks, following the movement of the educational tectonic plates.  There are no signs that there will be much let-up.

I           The picture in schools and academies

At the Summer 2018 conference of the National Governors’ Association, Education Secretary of State Damian Hinds pledged to make a strong case to Chancellor Phillip Hammond “to ensure that the school system has the resources it needs”.   I am not holding my breath and there are many like me.

Altogether, 5,000 school/academy governors and trustees were surveyed by the NGA and Times Educational Supplement (TES) in May and June 2018.  Only 20% said that their institutions could manage with the resources allocated and just 15% signalled that they had sufficient funds for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).  Fifty per cent had balanced budgets for 2017/18 and a third had to draw on their reserves.  Of those drawing on their reserves, 75% wrote that the reserves would run dry up in two years’ time.  Five per cent had been able to budget with the income given by the government via their local authorities with small surpluses accruing.

The biggest casualty of the financial strictures has been support staff.  Altogether, 47% of schools and academies in the survey revealed that they had cut the number of support staff members and another 28% anticipated doing so in the next two years. Further, after setting aside less money for the maintenance of premises, the number of teachers has also shrunk resulting in increased class sizes.   Schools and academies have had to go cap-in-hand to parents for voluntary contributions and appeal to them to use strenuous efforts to raise money through the parent-staff associations.

Of the respondents

  • 24% stated that they had increased class sizes;
  • 22% (i.e. 55% of secondary schools/academies) said they had reduced the number of subjects and qualifications on offer; and
  • 14% curtailed extra-curricular activities.

The shrinking of local authority services, said the respondents adversely affected the schools/academies.  Altogether, 72% said so, an increase of 9% on the returns in 2017.

The word that featured prominently in the NGA/TES survey was “reduced”.   Many institutions had reduced the size of their senior leadership teams (SLTs), reduced the number subjects on offer, reduced spending on continuing professional development (CPD), reduced specialist support for pupils lagging behind, reduced extra-curricular activities, reduced pastoral support and reduced opening hours.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) worked out that the total school/academy spending per pupil fell by 8% between 2009/10 and 2017/18.   What was factored into its calculation was a 55% cut in local authority spending on services to schools and a cut of over 20% to sixth-form funding.  Funding in primary and secondary schools and academies fell by 4% since 2015.

Jules White, Headteacher of Tanbridge House School in Horsham, West Sussex, chosen by The Times Educational Supplement as the person of the year, was incensed when he received the response of the Department for Education to the schools’/academies’ growing funding crisis.  He was driving home from school on a Friday evening when he heard a civil servant at the DfE mentioning that there had never been more money spent on education and that there were more teachers than ever.   He called this person “clueless”.

He told he TES: “I was thinking, I’ve got a hell of a lot going for me in this school.  It’s about as good as it gets in state education – but we’re clinging on.  I can’t get maths and English teachers, my class sizes are rising, I’ve got absolutely no money, I’ve not got enough TAs (Teaching Assistants) to cover kids with statements. We are cut to the bone.”

The upshot was that he established the WorthLess campaign. In September 2018, he marshalled 2,000 headteachers and marched them to Downing Street.   He also invoiced the Treasury £3.5 billion – the amount his campaigners say they should be receiving extra under a fairer funding system.

II          Further Education (FE)

If you think it’s bad in the schools/academies sector, take a peek at Further Education, where it is much worse.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI) Amanda Spielman in her annual report of 2017/18 said that the overall performance had improved, despite acknowledging that there were huge funding pressures on the FE and sixth form colleges.  Altogether, 76% of FE sixth form colleges were rated “good” – an increase on the 69% the previous year.  However, Mrs Spielman wrote: “We are concerned about the financial sustainability of the college sector and the clear impact that real-terms cuts to FE funding can have on provision”.  Per-student spending in FE and sixth-form colleges “is now 11 per cent lower than for pupils at secondary school”.

The FE sector is thinking long and hard in these difficult times about whether the apprenticeship scheme is good value for money.  The number of young people beginning apprenticeships was way down from before the levy came in.  The growth area has been in the higher-level apprenticeship, increasing by 10,000 apprenticeships annually since 2011/12.  But many existing graduate schemes have been rebranded as apprenticeships to pull in the desperately needed finances, which make the whole business questionable.

The chief operating officer of the Institute of Apprenticeships (IfA) signalled that the £2.2 billion apprenticeship budget for 2018/19 was likely to be overspent by £500 million. The overspend could rise by 2020/21 if nothing is done.    Accordingly, he plans to review the funding bands for over 30 apprenticeships standards to ensure that they provide value for money.   This will mean that the scheme is likely to be financially squeezed.

III        Government Reaction

Despite the evidence, the Department for Education finds it difficult to accept that there is a funding crisis hitting education.  The reaction to the funding crisis of Dominic Herrington, the Interim National Schools Commissioner, who is also the Regional Schools Commissioner for East Midlands and the Humber, (as reported in The Times Educational Supplement on 30 November 2018) said: “Crisis?  What crisis?”   Even ostriches can be heard asking the Herringtons of the country to stop burying their heads in the sand.

Officials are of the view that schools and academies can live within their means if they were more efficient.  Well, this is precisely what the institutions are doing through the dedication of school leaders, teachers and support and administrative staff.  Audits of the average amount of time teachers work per week often comes to 60 hours or more.

School and academy budgets have been cut, and demand to provide for pupils with special educational needs and those who require mental health support far outstrips supply.  The education patient is in critical care and likely to go under if a financial injection is not given.

IV        National Governors’ Association (NGA) Campaign

The NGA has launched a campaign to turn the screws on ministers.

  • On Thursday, 28 February 2019, the NGA has asked governors to go to parliament with their local MPs and join in the campaign.
  • On Friday, 1 March 2019, the organisation has requested that each school/academy invite its local MP to pay it a visit or (as there will not be sufficient MPs to go around) visit the constituency office to make the case for more funding for education.
  • And if school/academy representatives have not done so already, the NGA exhorts them to visit their MPs’ constituency office to make their cases heard.

The NGA has requested schools/academies to provide MPs with evidence of need for education funding, how staff are having to bear extra burdens and where pupils, in extremis, are suffering.  The point that children and young people can be seriously damaged if no action is taken must be forcibly made.

The NGA has asked for a spending review.  As part of this request, it has set out nine “asks” or requests based on the latest research and intelligence collected from governors and trustees. These are as follows.

(1) The core revenue budget be increased at least £2 billion per year so that the basic rate that schools/academies for each pupil covers the cost of their education.

(2) The high needs budget for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) be increased by at least £1.5 billion per year.

(3) The rate for pupils in the 16-to-19-year age-group be increased by at least £4,760 per pupil per year.

(4) The pupil premium funding be protected in real terms and included in the national funding formula with reporting requirements retained.

(5) The government review funding for the early years so that all children have access to high quality, teacher-led early education.

(6) The national funding formula be implemented in full as soon as possible, with funding distributed directly to schools and academies.

(7) Funding settlements be for a minimum of three years to enable schools and academies to plan their budgets properly and thoughtfully.

(8) The government makes sufficient capital funding available to return all school and academy buildings to a satisfactory or better condition.

(9) Local authority funding of services to schools and academies and children be properly underwritten as also children’s mental and physical health services, so that pupils come to their institutions safe, well and equipped to learn.

V        Parents Campaign

Parents have established a national pressure group – Fair Funding for All Schools. The body has been setting up independent parental-led groups attached to schools and academies in their local areas.  They are campaigning for education to be better funded.

Fair Funding for Schools considers that it is very important for an independent parent voice to sound their concerns alongside governors and school and academy leaders.   Parents who wish to become involved can contact info@fairfundingforallschools.org or visit www.fairfundingforallschools.org. They can also go on Twitter at @fairfundingschools.


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