All eyes on Westminster...

Written by: Anne Lyons | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The Chancellor will deliver his Autumn Budget on November 22. Anne Lyons says all eyes will be on Westminster to see if the government finally acts to ease the huge pressure on schools’ finances

The desire to make sure every young person has access to the highest quality education is the mission that unites school leaders, governors, parents, carers and teachers. In order to achieve that, schools have to be funded fully and fairly.

The trouble is, the government has taken £2.8 billion out of school budgets since 2015 and many are now at breaking point.

Education became a top issue in this summer’s General Election, with research showing that nearly one million people switched their votes on polling day because of what they’d heard.

A few weeks later, recognising that education was such an important issue for so many, The secretary of state announced that £1.3 billion from the Department for Education’s (DfE) budget would be redirected to schools.

This proves that sustained and sensible lobbying can work. The extra money is welcome, of course. But this is not new investment.

A total of £400 million in April 2018 and another £900 million the following year is a long way short of the £2 billion the school system needs every year in order just to stand still. Besides which, at the recent Public Accounts Committee hearing, the permanent secretary revealed that the DfE had yet to identify how this cash was going to be found. The government really needs to make a long-term commitment to school funding, and make it soon.

The DfE has done its bit – £1.3 billion is a large chunk of money. Now it is time for the Treasury to step up. The upcoming budget absolutely must include additional school funding. We have been busy in Westminster since the start of this term, organising meetings and taking part in big lobby events.

We wrote to every MP to ask them to find out how school funding is affecting their constituency. We wrote to the new chair of the Education Select Committee to ask him to consider an inquiry into school funding. And we wrote to the Chancellor to urge him to announce more money for schools in the autumn budget. In short, we want Westminster to be alive with debate about school funding because the missing billions are pushing us perilously close to the end of the line for high standards.

In September I chaired a well-attended meeting with MPs and school leaders. Here’s a flavour of what was said that evening.

One secondary school leader from East Sussex told me that his school’s playing fields are now unsuitable for sport because he can’t afford to get the grass cut regularly enough. The school has had to start using primary school furniture in order to fit more pupils into fewer classrooms because some areas of the school are not fit to use and there is no money to pay for repairs.

A primary headteacher from Manchester told me she is going to have to think about making all of her teaching assistants redundant, other than those that are funded for high needs children on Education, Health and Care Plans. She also said that 90 per cent of her pupils never hear a bedtime story, never see an adult read for pleasure and have never visited the local library. Cuts mean the school is no longer in a position to make up for some of these disadvantages.

And, a school leader in Carlisle told me how at the end of last year he had to let his caretaker go. As a result, he came in over the summer holidays to repaint the classrooms himself.

This is heart-breaking stuff. It should not be allowed to happen.

I’d be very surprised indeed if MPs hadn’t heard from a headteacher or a parent expressing concerns about school funding over the last few months. Despite this, many MPs are still unaware of the new financial pressures that schools are facing. Here are just four:

  • National Insurance and pensions: increases in the cost of employers’ contributions of more than 5.5 per cent in April 2015 have had a big impact on schools.
  • The £600 million of cuts to the Education Services Grant: the ESG was used by local authorities and academies to fund school services, like HR and facilities management. These services are still needed so the cost has been shifted to individual schools and academies, putting further pressure on school budgets.
  • Pay: the cost of annual pay awards for teaching and support staff, however minimal, have been unfunded in school budgets.
  • The Apprenticeship Levy: the levy came into effect in April 2017. Only one per cent of employers have to pay this but nearly all maintained schools and most academies will have to pay an extra 0.5 per cent on their payroll costs.

Schools’ costs are going up and up. It’s not difficult to see why they need at least £2 billion more a year.

Now that the DfE has recognised the scale of the problem and come up with £1.3 billion, I think it makes it very difficult for the Treasury not to do the same. I would be amazed if the Chancellor doesn’t come up with more money for schools in November’s budget.

But there is a risk that he won’t. And it will be children who lose out if that happens. Money does not solve every problem, of course, but whatever challenges we face, the system will only be able to deliver the solutions if it is fully and fairly funded.

  • Anne Lyons is the current president of the National Association of Head Teachers. Visit

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