Unions fight to put funding on General Election agenda

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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Campaigners are hopeful that the widespread cuts to school funding across MPs’ constituencies will force political parties to face up to the issue in the run-up to the June 8 General Election. Pete Henshaw reports

Education unions are pushing hard for school funding to form a key part of the General Election campaign.

Britain will go to the polls on June 8, just two years after the last General Election and almost a year since the Brexit vote. The election campaign is expected to begin in earnest after Parliament is dissolved, most probably on May 3.

Prime minister Theresa May is seeking a larger majority in the House of Commons and a stronger mandate for her Brexit negotiations.

However, current school funding pressures mean that over the coming years the vast majority of schools across the country – if not all schools – are facing real-terms cuts to their funding worth hundreds of thousands of pounds (see panel, below).

It is an issue that will affect most MPs and which has been brought up numerous times in the House of Commons, not least in Prime Minister’s Questions. As such, the education unions are hoping to be able to put pressure on politicians to prioritise the issue in their manifestos and during the campaign.

A second consultation on the National Funding Formula closed in March and the Department for Education (DfE) is currently analysing the responses. However, with the purdah period before the General Election preventing ministers and civil servants from making political or policy announcements, it seems a forlorn hope that any more news will be forthcoming before we go to the polls.

The National Union of Teachers last week wrote to education secretary Justine Greening in a last-ditch attempt to get the consultation responses published, but seemingly to no avail.

On sending the letter, general secretary Kevin Courtney, said: “As we are now entering in to a General Election, the time for half-truths about school funding is over. Already we have headteachers resigning, sending begging letters to parents and lobbying MPs and the prime minister on the disastrous effect a lack of funding is having on their pupils.

“The education secretary cannot go into this election without letting families know what will happen with the funding of their children’s schools.”

The National Union of Head Teachers will host its annual conference this weekend when the election and school funding will be high on the agenda.

General secretary Russell Hobby called on parents to raise the issue of education with candidates: “Many parents are dismayed about the £3 billion of savings the government is asking schools to make and the inevitable negative impact this will have on the quality of their children’s education.”

He continued: “These cuts were not apparent when we last went to the polls in 2015. June 8 will be a moment for voters to show whether they endorse this approach to school funding or whether they reject it.

“In recent months we have seen growing momentum for our school funding campaign, forcing MPs to take notice of the cuts to school budgets in their constituencies. It is important that this momentum isn’t lost.”

The union-led School Cuts website (see below) has already highlighted the challenge facing MPs by producing funding forecasts for all of England’s 533 Parliamentary constituencies – every one of which is set to see an average fall in real-terms per-pupil funding by 2020. Some face losses of more than £1,000 per-pupil on average.

The Association of School and College Leaders is developing its own manifesto ahead of the election and general secretary Geoff Barton said the key message will be simple: “There is insufficient funding in the education system.”

Mr Barton added: “We call on all political parties to commit to investing in education as part of a long-term economic plan. Funding must be at an appropriate level to compete with the best education systems in the world and meet the challenges of the 21st century. It should be sufficient, sustainable and equitable. Investing in education will help ensure the future wellbeing and prosperity of the nation.”

Tough times for school budgets – the funding crisis explained

According to the National Audit Office (NAO), the Department for Education (DfE) expects schools to find £3 billion in savings by 2020 via better procurement and back office savings.

And while the DfE insists it has protected the schools budget in real-terms, the NAO has concluded that the overall schools budget does not provide for funding per-pupil to increase with inflation.

The school system is also facing a notable increase in students. Up until now this has been a problem for primary schools, but it is soon set to hit secondary schools, where places are more complex and costly to provide. The government estimates that it will need to create 420,000 additional places between 2016 and 2021 – 231,000 in primary schools and 189,000 in secondary schools.

In 2015, councils had to provide a total of 2,740,000 secondary school places. However, this figure is expected to rise in the coming years, reaching 3,287,000 by 2024.

At the same time, the new National Funding Formula (NFF) is set to iron out historical anomalies in the system in a bid to create a fairer funding set-up. This in itself has been widely welcomed. However, with no additional money for schools, it has become a controversial policy that looks set to create winners and some notable losers, not least in London.

The union-run School Cuts website, which has analysed the implications of funding pressures as revealed by the NAO and the proposed changes under a revised National Funding Formula, has said that secondary schools face a £477 per-pupil cut in funding by 2020. Primary schools face losing £339 per-pupil. What’s more, School Cuts predicts that 98 per cent of schools will face real-terms funding cuts.

And in March, a report from the Education Policy Institute think-tank warned that every school will see a real-terms cut by 2019/20. It said that half of primary and secondary schools face “large” real-terms cuts of £74,000 per primary school and £291,000 per secondary school.

  • The second consultation on the National Funding Formula is now closed and the DfE is analysing the feedback. All documents, including examples of how the formula would look if applied to 2016/17 schools funding, can be found at http://bit.ly/2h5rGTK
  • You can visit the School Cuts website at www.schoolcuts.org.uk
  • For SecEd’s archive of articles on the National Funding Formula and funding crisis, visit http://bit.ly/2pcCkgh


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