Budget reaction: Redunancies warning, funding rows and maths confusion

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

The Autumn Budget brought little with it for education, with no significant additional funding as many had hoped for. SecEd recaps the headlines and looks at the fallout from last week's Budget announcement

Redundancies warning after Budget blow

It will now be “impossible” to avoid redundancies, keep class sizes down or offer a full curriculum to pupils, school leaders have warned in the aftermath of last week’s Autumn Budget.

School budgets remain at “breaking point” after the chancellor ignored pleas from unions and other campaign groups for wholesale investment in education.

The Budget featured some specific funding plans for schools, including in mathematics and computer science education, but yielded no significant additional investment and refused to acknowledge the real-terms funding cuts that have hit schools budgets.

The National Education Union said that the government had taken “a political choice” and had “chosen to ignore ... the clear evidence of the problems being created by real-terms cuts to education”.

The limited funding announcements that there were included £84 million to upskill 8,000 computer science teachers and a plan to offer schools and colleges £600 extra for every extra pupil who decides to take maths or further maths A levels or core maths (see the end of this article for full details on the education-related announcements).

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the measures announced were “piecemeal” and “extremely disappointing”.

He continued: “School funding is being cut in real terms by 4.6 per cent between 2015 to 2019, according to analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. ASCL calculates that an additional £2 billion a year will be needed by 2020 to address this situation.

“The spending announcements in the Budget do not remotely meet the urgent need for a significant improvement in education funding.

“Schools and colleges will have to make further cutbacks resulting in more damage to the curriculum and the support that they are able to offer to their students. It appears that the government has learned nothing from this year’s General Election, when parents across the country sent a clear message that they wanted to see proper investment in education.”

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) is also concerned about the future.

General secretary Paul Whiteman said: “It will now be impossible for many schools to avoid making redundancies, to continue to keep class sizes at an acceptable level, and to offer a full and rounded curriculum to all pupils.”

The NAHT’s annual funding survey earlier this year revealed that the number of schools running deficits has doubled in the last year, with 18 per cent of the responding schools now in deficit.

Meanwhile, government figures earlier this year showed rising pupil numbers and class sizes, while teacher-to-pupil ratios have fallen (see below, Funding row set to continue).

Mr Whiteman continued: “It is impossible to claim that this is a Budget which embraces the future when it doesn’t contain any new money for schools or young people. We will continue to make our case loudly and clearly, alongside the thousands of parents, governors, school staff and others who have campaigned tirelessly this year.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, added: “The government had a big political choice to make in the Budget – to invest in education, or to continue with its damaging policy of real-terms cuts.

“The Budget, with no significant new money for education, shows that the government has chosen to ignore the anger of parents and the clear evidence of the problems being created by real-terms cuts to education.”

Funding row set to continue

The row between school funding campaigners and the government doesn’t look likely to end any time soon.
Before the Budget, schools minister Nick Gibb accused education unions of being “misleading” in the funding analysis and projections compiled on the joint union led School Cuts website (https://schoolcuts.org.uk).

Unions, however, accuse the government of ignoring the impact of rising costs and inflation on schools’ budgets when ministers repeat the mantra of “more money going into schools than ever before”.

It is true to say that this popular Department for Education (DfE) rebuttal to questions about funding, often heard at Prime Minister’s Questions, is explained by the fact that there are more pupils in schools than ever before.

What is clear is that the National Audit Office has previously identified a £2.8 billion deficit in school budgets since 2015, which the DfE is expecting schools to fill (mainly via back office efficiencies and better procurement).

The School Cuts website claims that this deficit, alongside changes to the National Funding Formula due to be phased in from April 2018, means that 91 per cent of schools are facing real-terms budget cuts by 2019, with the average secondary school looking at a £205,000-a-year loss.

Notably, the Association of School and College Leaders has said that it fears the minimum per-pupil funding levels set out in the new funding formula “are still way too low”.

The Autumn Budget confirmed no big additional investment in education. The overall DfE resource budget is to rise from £61.3 billion in 2017/18 to £63.3 billion in 2019/20.

The DfE has previously confirmed that core funding for schools and high needs will rise from £41 billion in 2017/18 to £43.5 billion in 2019/20. The DfE says that this will be enough to maintain the schools and high needs blocks of the Dedicated Schools Grant in real-terms per-pupil up to 2019/20. Campaigners disagree.
In July, the DfE announced extra schools funding of £1.3 billion, although has faced criticism that some of this money is recycled from within existing budgets.

School leaders say that £2 billion is needed to off-set real-terms cuts to budgets (see http://bit.ly/2k28nyj).
The Institute of Fiscal Studies reports that the additional £1.3 billion will only serve to reduce the real-term cuts facing schools between 2015 and 2019 from 6.5 to 4.6 per cent.

Meanwhile, school rolls continue to rise, with official figures showing that as of January 2017, schools had 110,000 more pupils than a year previously, including almost 30,000 more secondary students (see http://bit.ly/2ztwIAz).

At the same time, there has been a 2,700 drop in the number of full-time teachers working in secondary schools (from 210,900 in November 2015 to 208,200 in November 2016). It means that there are now 17.6 pupils for every teacher – up from 17.4 in 2015 – and average secondary class sizes are slowly rising.
Trade unions and campaigners have vowed to continue to take their argument to government that funding levels are not high enough. Ministers, it seems likely, will continue to disagree.

Chancellor’s focus on maths

While there has been welcome for any additional funding into schools, there is also concern that the Budget’s provision of £600 for schools and colleges for every extra pupil taking maths or further maths A levels or core maths is “very limited”.

The funding will go to schools for every extra pupil who continues to study maths beyond GCSE compared to current rates. At the moment, around 90,000 pupils a year study maths at A level.

Further details on exactly how the idea will be implemented and how the figures of extra A level maths students will be calculated are yet to be unveiled.

However, there is concern that the measure might lead to schools coercing pupils down a mathematics A level route.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We are concerned that the focus on funding exclusively for maths students creates a perverse incentive to enter students on to maths courses which might not necessarily be the best option for them. And it would be very unfair if this funding applies only where there is an increase in the number of students taking maths, as this would penalise those institutions which have already worked hard to increase maths entries.”

Mr Barton is also disappointed that the measure targets one subject above others: “Maths is a very important subject, but so too are many other subjects, such as French, German, music and drama in which entries are in decline at A level,” he added.

The announcement also brought criticism of the government’s record in training mathematics teachers.
The latest initial teacher training data shows that only 84 per cent of the required maths trainee were recruited last year. Department for Education data also shows an increase in secondary teaching vacancies, from
7.1 per cent between 2010 and 2015 to 23 per cent in 2015.

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary at the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “Maths is important but it is already the most popular A level subject. Attention should also be given to English and arts subjects that have seen declining numbers in recent years.

“Schools already appreciate the value and importance of mathematics – this is not the issue. The biggest challenge facing schools is not an unwillingness to promote the virtues of the subject but a shortage of teachers able to teach it. The £40 million to train more maths teachers could help with this recruitment challenge but the government has missed its own recruitment targets year after year, so it remains to be seen whether this measure will deliver the numbers required.”

However, Stephanie Baxter, education lead at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said increasing further maths study was essential.

She continued: “This is a small step in the right direction and there remains huge demand for engineers. We ultimately need to look at the focus on maths and physics, as studying engineering is creative and should not be limited to only those who have taken these subjects.

“We are at risk of stifling economic growth if we do not encourage more students to study engineering.”

Overview: Education in the Budget

Mathematics: The headline Budget announcement for education focused on mathematics, which chancellor Philip Hammond said has a “crucial role in preparing the next generation for jobs in the new economy”. The Budget sets out plans to:

  • Provide £27 million to expand the Teaching for Mastery maths programme into a further 3,000 schools.
  • Offer schools and colleges £600 for every extra pupil who decides to take maths or further maths A levels or core maths – with more than £80 million available initially and no cap on numbers.
  • Commit £18 million to fund an annual £350,000 for every maths school under the specialist maths school model.
  • Test innovative approaches to improve GCSE maths resit outcomes via a £8.5 million pilot alongside £40 million to establish Further Education Centres of Excellence across the country to train maths teachers and spread best practice.

Computer science & STEM: After recent warnings about the lack of qualified teachers of computer science, with many schools not offering the subject at GCSE as a consequence, the Budget set out:

  • A pledge to ensure that every secondary school has a fully qualified computer science GCSE teacher, with £84 million to upskill 8,000 computer science teachers by the end of this Parliament.
  • Plans to work with industry to set up a new National Centre for Computing to produce training material and support schools.

Elsewhere, with girls still less likely to study most STEM subjects at A level, the Budget revealed that the government is to explore “how to improve the accessibility and transparency of data on this issue by institution and subject”.

Vocational education: With the announcement of plans earlier this year to introduce new Technical levels, and with the roll-out of the Apprenticeship Levy, vocational education featured strongly:

  • The government announced T levels in the Spring Budget 2017. As implementation gets underway, the government will invest up to £20 million “to help teachers prepare for this change”.
  • The government will continue to work with employers on how the Apprenticeship Levy can be spent so that “the levy works effectively and flexibly for industry, and supports productivity across the country”.

CPD: The Budget revealed plans for £42 million to pilot a Teacher Development Premium. It states: “This will test the impact of a £1,000 budget for high-quality professional development for teachers working in areas that have fallen behind. This will support the government’s ambition to address regional productivity disparities through reducing the regional skills gap.”


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