Kit Malthouse: Stop the gimmicks and act on school funding

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
New boy: Our latest education secretary Kit Malthouse, 55, attended Liverpool College before studying politics and economics at Newcastle University

The message to the new education secretary is loud and clear: act now over the “dire” school funding situation and soaring energy prices – and stop the “policy gimmicks and political posturing”.

New prime minister Liz Truss has appointed Kit Malthouse as her new education secretary, the fourth MP to hold the post this year – and the ninth in eight years.

School leaders have been clear in their warnings this week that there will be unpalatable cuts to front-line educational provision unless urgent action is taken over funding.

Things look stark. The Conservative government had promised by the end of this Parliament to restore per-pupil funding in real-terms to levels last seen in 2010.

However, an analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) now shows that we can expect funding in 2024/25 to be 3% lower than in 2010 thanks to rising costs (Sibieta, 2022).

A key challenge is rising energy bills. In April, schools estimated that bills would soar by more than 100%, but Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, says that “things have clearly got much worse since then” with some of his members reporting increases of as much as 500%.

On top of this, schools have been left to fund the increase in new teachers’ salaries to £30,000 by 2023/24 and other costs are also increasing as the cost of living crisis bites.

School costs are expected to grow by 6% in 2022/23 alone, including salary costs rising by 4% overall (this includes an average increase in teacher pay across the board of 5.4% from September 2022 and increases of at least 8% in support staff pay). The IFS report says costs will grow by a further 4% in 2023/24, outstripping planned rises in per-pupil funding.

The situation in post-16 education is worse. Last year, the IFS estimated that per-student funding in colleges will be around 10% below 2010 levels in real-terms by the end of this Parliament, and school sixth form funding will be 23% lower (Farquharson et al, 2021).

Writing in the autumn edition of Headteacher Update, Mr Whiteman said that schools have “already made all the obvious cuts”, including stopping building repairs, slashing CPD, cutting pastoral support, and reducing supplier costs.

He writes: “This leaves school leaders forced into awful decisions. They simply do not have the money to pay for everything, with all costs rising, and no more cash incoming. So what do they cut?

“Faced with such a dire situation, and still not making ends meet, the only options left are even more damaging – cuts that cannot help but impact on the education and wellbeing of children this year.”

Mr Whiteman warned that one of the most frequently cited cuts among NAHT members was to the hours and number of teaching assistants, something schools “desperately don’t want to do as they know it directly impacts children in the classroom” (Headteacher Update, 2022).

Responding to Mr Malthouse’s appointment on Tuesday night (September 6), Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, was clear: “The critical and urgent issue that he must address is the dire funding situation facing schools and colleges, as a result of soaring energy bills and pay awards for which there is no additional government funding. This situation will result in cuts to educational provision unless the government provides urgent financial assistance.”

Mr Barton said that the prime minister’s anticipated action on soaring energy prices must include schools and colleges.

The National Education Union (NEU) meanwhile called for “significant governmental support and swift action” on the cost of living crisis, including a fully-funded pay rise for teaching and support staff that “at least matches inflation”.

Joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “The current 5% deal for teachers and 8% for support staff adds up to a further pay cut, on top of more than a decade of real-terms cuts to pay. Teacher recruitment and retention has been in a parlous state for some time, and this must be arrested urgently if we are to protect education services into the future.

"School funding has been similarly depressed in recent years, with the costs of running a school continuing to rise. Austerity then Covid were tests of resilience, and the energy crisis is the latest. Government cannot expect schools to make ends meet forever.

Mr Barton echoed the warning on recruitment: “The other critical issue is a severe and widespread shortage of teachers. The new education secretary has to work with the education sector to improve not only graduate recruitment but the retention of staff. Far too many teachers currently leave the profession early in their careers.

“Funding and teacher supply directly affect the outcomes and life chances of children and young people. They are the essential resources upon which every other ambition and goal relies.

“Rhetoric and white papers will not improve attainment and social mobility without these prerequisites. We urge the new education secretary to focus on what really matters rather than the policy gimmicks and political posturing which often emanate from the government.”

A chartered accountant by profession, Mr Malthouse, 55, attended Sudley County Primary School and then Liverpool College before studying politics and economics at Newcastle University. He is married with three children.

This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up Headteacher update Bulletin
About Us

Headteacher Update is a magazine, website, podcast and regular ebulletin dedicated to the primary school leadership team. We tackle a wide range of leadership issues, offering best practice, case studies and in-depth information, advice and guidance. Headteacher Update magazine is distributed free to approximately 20,000 primary school headteachers.

Learn more about Headteacher update


Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.