Unions threaten to ‘intensify’ school funding campaign

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The returned Conservative minority government faces renewed pressure over its pledge on education funding, the proposed National Funding Formula and schools' rising cost pressures...

Within hours of the General Election result last week, renewed pressure was being place on the now minority Conservative government over the school funding crisis.

As prime minister Theresa May entered into negotiations with Northern Ireland’s DUP to try and secure a working majority in the House of Commons, education unions signalled their intention to keep up the pressure on funding.

In a joint letter to Ms May, sent on Friday (June 9), the National Union of Teachers (NUT), National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) have called for a meeting with Ms May to discuss “the future of education funding”.

They also want to see the immediate publication by the Department for Education (DfE) of the consultation findings on the proposals to reform the National Funding Formula for schools.

As has been previously reported in SecEd and Headteacher Update, Schools in England face a real-terms funding cut of £3 billion in the coming years due to rising costs and increasing pupil numbers.

Proposed changes to the National Funding Formula are also, in their current form, set to create a number of winners and losers across the country as funding would be redistributed rather than increased.

The Conservative election manifesto promised a £4 billion increase to school funding during the coming Parliament.

However, there are question marks over where this money will come from after the manifesto said that £650 million of this would be raised by scrapping universal infant free school meals and introducing free breakfasts for all primary children – plans which proved not to have been costed properly.

Research published by the School Cuts campaign, which is being led by the education unions, shows that under current funding plans, 93 per cent of schools will experience a real-terms per-pupil funding cut by 2022.

The School Cuts campaign was active during the General Election campaign, providing information on local funding levels to help constituents and campaigners challenge their Parliamentary candidates over school funding.

The campaign even commissioned a billboard on the M6 motorway near Birmingham to illustrate the scale of the real-terms funding cuts facing England’s second city.

Under pressure: School funding formed a central part of the election campaign, including this billboard on the M6 in Birmingham highlighting the real-terms cuts facing schools in the city under current funding plans, which was commissioned by the union-led School Cuts campaign

In their letter to Ms May, the unions state: “Your own party has pledged more money, although careful analysis of this offer means we remain concerned that it won’t meet the needs of the rising pupil population.

“We would like to suggest a meeting between all of us and you and your officials to discuss the future of education funding. Our resolve to campaign collectively on funding is undiminished. We hope that your desire to equip the next generation with the skills to help the UK flourish after Brexit is equally strong.”

In September, the NUT and ATL are due to merge to form the newly created National Education Union and the DfE can expect funding to remain a key priority for the new organisation.

An NUT statement issued after the General Election result last week said that unless action is forthcoming on funding, the School Cuts campaign would “intensify”.

The NUT said: “One of the first acts of the new government should be to publish its response to the fair funding consultation. But on current plans, unless the government puts in new resources, this will lead to cuts in almost all schools.

“If the government decides to press ahead with these cuts the ATL and NUT are in no doubt that the campaigning of education professionals, parents, governors, MPs and local communities up and down the land will intensify over the coming weeks and months.

“From September, the amalgamation of our two unions to form the NEU will strengthen our position and the support for this campaign.”

Elsewhere, Russell Hobby, the NAHT’s general secretary, said that the hung Parliament result meant that there was no clear mandate for the Conservative policies, including on expanding grammar schools and selective education.

He said: “Instead of driving through policies which lack strong public appeal, we believe that the government should be brave enough to use this moment to include ideas from other parties. We have long argued for a less party-political approach to education policy. Now is the time to take a step towards that.”

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