A ‘fiscal event’ worth watching

Written by: Paul Whiteman | Published:

The November Budget is the time to take definitive action on school funding. Paul Whiteman urges the Chancellor to step up and do the right thing

In a little over a month from now, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will stand up in Parliament and deliver what the government describes as a “fiscal event”. For those of us outside the Westminster village, that means the Autumn Budget.

The Budget will be a landmark moment for schools. The event will be watched incredibly closely by everyone in education because we’re all waiting to see if Philip Hammond will break his silence on school funding and announce more money to spend on children and young people.

As we know all too well, school budgets are at breaking point. The silence up to now has given us concern that the real extent of the problem has not properly registered in Westminster and Whitehall.

For this reason, many school leaders, parents, school staff, governors and families will be attending a rally in Parliament on October 24. We want to bring the issue of school funding home to any MPs who are still in doubt. We know that the cuts to school budgets are already curtailing our best efforts to provide a first class education to the students in our care. Some MPs may still be in the dark about that.

At NAHT, our #TelltheChancellor campaign has been gathering pace online and on social media. If you haven’t already sent a message of your own, I’d urge you to consider it while there is still time.

Earlier this month we wrote to the Chancellor ourselves. We have asked to see education funded fully and fairly, investing at least £2 billion a year more, with sufficient funds to lift the public sector pay cap and make a success of the new national funding formula.

These are big numbers, and sometimes the significance of the billions isn’t always easy to pin onto individual schools, classes or children.

According to our calculations, based on the government’s own data, in the Chancellor’s own Runnymede and Weybridge constituency, where there are 34 schools, funding will fall by £2,160,794 by 2020, meaning each pupil will have £160 less spent on them; 47 teacher posts will be lost.

Our letter urges Mr Hammond not to stand by and simply let this happen.

Of course there will be many voices urging him to prioritise funding for different areas of public life.

But there’s no more important area than school funding, which is why it is so disappointing that the Treasury has been so silent on this key area.

The Department for Education (DfE) has dug deep, reprioritising funding to pledge an additional £400 million for 2018/19 and £900 million in 2019/20 to plug the funding gap. We welcomed this as a step in the right direction, but the DfE’s own data says that roughly a third of all schools are already in deficit.

Seven out of 10 NAHT members say that their budgets will be untenable by the end of the next academic year. We can’t wait any longer for the money. Subjects are being dropped, support is being reduced, class sizes are increasing. This will do nothing to improve the equality of opportunity, right across the country, that we would all like to see.

Whatever policy announcements the government makes, you cannot do better than funding education fully and fairly and treating teachers well and paying them properly. Unfortunately, that is not happening at the moment.

Now it is time for the Chancellor to step up, to do the right thing, and to announce more money for schools.

As we said in our letter to him: “When you give your budget speech in Parliament on November 22, please do not miss the opportunity to announce more money for schools and young people and to make it available immediately.”

That would be a fiscal event worth watching.

  • Paul Whiteman is general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. Visit www.naht.org.uk


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