Funding: We’re not there yet

Written by: Kevin Courtney | Published:
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary, National Education Union

After years of undermining union campaigning on school funding, the government finally accepts that additional money is needed. But the recent investment will not be enough, says Kevin Courtney

In August, after years of campaigning by National Education Union members alongside school leader unions and others, the government announced extra money for schools (DfE, 2019).

The NEU’s analysis of school funding based on the government’s own figures was the bedrock of the School Cuts website and the formation of the School Cuts Coalition which played such a fundamental role in pressurising government to accept the truth.

Along the way the Department for Education (DfE) and senior Conservative Party members instead of accepting the parlous state of school funding dedicated much time attempting to undermine our analysis. Needless to say they were unsuccessful and finally accepted that schools did need the additional funding.

With a General Election looming, it will not have escaped Boris Johnson’s attention that during the 2017 General Election a poll by Survation showed that the School Cuts website shifted 750,000 votes. Clearly for the general public, if not the Conservatives, school funding is of paramount importance.

However, while acknowledging that the funding squeezed out of the government is a great victory it still does not go anywhere near far enough.

And if you look beyond the hype it is clear that the prime minister’s pledge will leave around a third of schools with no additional funding. We were asking for school budgets to rise by £12.6 billion by 2022/23. The government has pledged £9 billion, meaning that not all schools will see a real-terms rise in funding. Schools will also not see any extra money until April 2020. This leaves the majority in the same financially difficult position with all the same disappointing outcomes, such as cutting back on the curriculum, leaving building repairs undone, reducing teachers and support staff, making do with inadequate resources, and increasing class sizes.

The latest report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies confirms our belief that the additional money announced in the Spending Round is insufficient (IFS, 2019). It points out that even after the Spending Round, schools still have to cope with an unprecedented 13-year long funding squeeze.

The IFS draws attention to the crisis in 16 to 19 education, too, which still needs an additional £1 billion a year to deal with cuts. This sector that is so important to young people’s life chances has suffered a 27 per cent real-terms cut since 2010.

And the report also shows that funding has been removed from policies that reduced inequality and helped children overcome adversity. These services have been reduced to the point where all they do is fulfil minimum legal duties.

The £700 million recently pledged for SEND funding is inadequate in the face of the £1,7 billion shortfall in funding. This has done untold damage to the estimated 2,000 children who have been left without education provision as a result of government policy.

The announcement of a raise in starting salaries for teachers, to £30,000 by 2022/23 is absolutely necessary if the government is going to get enough graduates wanting to become teachers. Teacher training targets have been missed for six years in a row and this may go some way to making teaching more attractive.

But even these pay rises will only return starter teachers’ pay to where it was in 2010 in real terms. Properly funding these increases and returning all teachers to at least 2010 levels is vital. The government must also realise that it will be unable to guarantee these pay levels – and therefore unable to use them in advertising campaigns – unless it requires academies and free schools to pay them.

We have come some way thanks to the persistence of all of us who have campaigned for the basic human right of a well funded and resourced education for all children and young people. But we are not there yet.

  • Kevin Courtney is joint general secretary of the National Education Union.

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