There's gathering crisis in education as funding is cut says Matthew Pennycook.
Footage of a child with learning difficulties, sobbing as the teaching assistant they worked with for the past three years is let go, or the extra pupils being placed in already full classes, are unlikely to make the 6pm or 10pm news. If media coverage ensures that the crisis in our NHS is at the forefront of the public’s mind, the crisis in our education system, while less visible, is no less an issue of concern. Make no mistake: our schools are heading for a very real budget crisis.
Last year, more than half of secondary schools overspent. The situation is so dire the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned that by 2020 schools will be worse funded than at any time since the mid-90s. Let’s be clear, the Government's promise to maintain school funding per pupil in cash-terms during this Parliament will inevitably lead to real-terms cuts in our schools. Indeed, analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has shown there will be at least a 7% real terms reduction in per-pupil spending between 2015-16 and 2019-20.
What’s more, the funding problems facing our schools are likely to be made worse as a result of plans to introduce a new National Funding Formula. Greenwich Council Officers do not yet have all the information that they require to complete a full assessment of the formula’s potential impact locally (frustratingly, the Department of Education are providing information in dribs and drabs), but early analysis suggests that our local schools are going to need to budget for funding pressures in the region of 10–15% over the three years from 2018/19. That is going to place an incredible strain on local education provision.
Headteachers will scramble to save money in every way possible while fighting tooth and nail to keep delivering a quality education to local children. But in the course of my regular visits to local schools, many School Leaders have candidly told me that there is not much left to cut. As the demands on our schools grow, my fear is that the dedicated people that work in them will become so demoralised that they start to think about walking away – exacerbating a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention that is already having a huge impact on teaching and education standards.
Listening to Government Education Ministers you would be forgiven for believing that they have everything under control. The Department for Education (DfE) told the NAO that mainstream schools can cut their “workforce” (i.e. teachers) by £1.7bn over the next three years and that £1.3bn+ of savings in “procurement spending” are possible (i.e. everything other than teachers). There’s just one catch, they have to date provided no detail as to how all these savings are possible. What it all adds up to is this: schools are going to run out of money and the only government plan for solving it is baseless optimism.
The priority for education should be policies that will enable every child to reach their full potential and the investment to make that happen. We need a world-class education system for all our children, not just the privileged few and an education budget that is protected. That’s what I’ll continue to fight for in the weeks and months ahead.