The Government’s claim that there is no school funding crisis seems, finally, to be losing all credibility. In December the NUT launched a website which allows anyone in England or Wales to enter their postcode and identify instantly the likely funding losses faced by their local schools in the next three years and how many teachers would need to be removed to meet those cuts.
The Tories tried to dismiss the NUT’s figures, claiming that they planned to increase spending on education and that it was higher than under any other government. They also slammed the union for publishing estimates of school spending before details of a new national funding formula had been announced. All of this, however, was a smokescreen.
The NUT’s calculation of the extra costs faced by schools was not, and could not be, effectively challenged as it was based on government figures for inflation amongst other costs. Their claims about the impact of the new funding formula turned out to have underestimated rather than exaggerated the problem.
The reality is that, between now and 2020, 98% of schools will see a real terms cut in their funding, whereas the NUT initially thought it would be 92% The average primary school will see a reduction of £87,117 (£339 per pupil). The average secondary school will have their budget reduced by £405,611 (£477 per pupil) whereas the NUT had originally predicted £290,228 (£365 per pupil). (Currently £4,900 is allotted to each primary school pupil and £6,300 per secondary school pupil.)
These cuts come with budgets already shrinking. Though the Conservative party claimed in 2015 that education funding would be protected, this promise only referred to the dedicated schools grant (the per-pupil funding which is now being cut). Schools have seen cuts to support like the Education Services Grant, which funded school development through local authorities. The reduction in per-pupil funding will be compounded by the Tories’ new national funding formula, which will re-distribute the smaller pot of money away from inner-city schools towards underfunded rural schools.
In London, schools will lose up to £500 per pupil, yet rural schools will not receive enough money to make up for cuts to the dedicated schools grant. The cuts will have an even worse impact in Further Education. Whereas per-pupil funding rose for primary and secondary schools in the last 20 years, per-pupil funding for FE students fell and is no higher than it was almost 30 years ago. Further cuts to FE budgets will seriously damage 16-18 education. There a number of reasons for the huge scale of this problem.
The government want the public to focus only on one figure, which is the cash spent per pupil. Under their spending plans they promise that per pupil funding will be maintained in cash terms during this Parliament. That’s a cut in real terms, however, as there is no inflation-proofing. The Institute for Fiscal Studies say inflation will be 8% over the lifetime of this Parliament. That 8% real terms cut is, however, only one aspect of the problem. To understand the scale of underfunding it is essential to look also at the increased costs all schools will face too.
Funding Employers’ NI contributions have increased with no additional funding. Under the new pensions arrangements employers’ pension contributions increased also with no additional funding. Just as all of these pressures kick in, a new National Funding Formula will be introduced in April 2018 (changed from 2017). The model favoured by the Tories has been promoted by a group of shire counties (the f40 group) which would redistribute the existing funding away from areas of greatest need and deprivation and towards areas of affluence. Depending on whether there is a minimum funding guarantee, this will mean cuts of between 15-25% from April 2018. With the headteacher organisations, the National Governors Association and, recently, the National Audit Office joining the ranks of those warning of a crisis, the government’s claim that things have never been better lies in tatters.
The NAO warned that schools would have to find £3 billion in savings by 2019-20. The Institute for Fiscal Studies warned this week that per pupil spending would by that time have fallen by 6.5% in real terms. These will be the first real term cuts in school funding in over 20 years. The fact that there is a funding crisis looming is no longer in serious doubt. What isn’t clear is how effective the response will be. The last time we saw cuts like that, also under a Conservative government, they provoked a mass anti-cuts campaign led by parents. The Fight Against Cuts in Education (FACE) put the issue at the heart of community politics across the country and helped end 18 years of Tory rule.
In proportion, the planned cuts now are bigger than they were then or in the 1980s. It is good that there is a growing awareness of the funding crisis that lies ahead but it is only a start. The revival of a campaign like FACE backed up by trade union action to defend jobs and a clear Labour commitment to invest in education is the least that we need if we are to defend and improve education funding. The far-reaching reform that is needed in UK schools, to move away from a data-driven state of permanent testing towards teaching and learning with the personal growth and self-fulfilment of students at its heart, demands good levels of funding, paid for by society’s richest.
Lewisham schools fight
Teachers at Forest Hill School in Lewisham are balloting for strikes after management proposed huge job cuts as the solution to a hole in the school’s budget. After the sudden and seemingly out of the blue appearance of a £1 million shortfall, Lewisham council proposed a so-called “rescue package” which includes a £1.3 million reduction in the wages bill!
The plan for strikes is part of a push by Lewisham NUT to build a community campaign around the school involving parents, students and the local Labour Party, and part of a wider fight by Lewisham teachers against massive education cuts which look likely across the borough. Lewisham Momentum is actively involved in building these campaigns.
As school cuts loom across the country, we hope Lewisham will provide some inspiration to other campaigns, as we did during the successful anti-academisation strikes and community campaign in 2015.