With just days to go until the government publishes its Spring Budget, chancellor Philip Hammond has received a letter challenging him to act on school funding.
The last-ditch attempt to influence government policy has been made by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the National Governors’ Association (NGA).
The letter argues that the total size of the budget per-pupil in state schools is “not enough” and that the government has not protected pupil funding as it promised to do in the 2015 election campaign.
It adds: “Governing boards and school leaders are being forced to make impossible choices as a result of insufficient funding. They are doing their best to ‘make do’ but there are only so many financial efficiencies a school can find before reaching breaking point.
“Schools are running out of things they can cut. As one governor put it to us recently: ‘If I make the cuts necessary to ensure financial balance I will rob our children and those most vulnerable of vital teaching, help or services.’ For many schools, the only real way they can make the savings the government is asking for is by making staff redundant.”
The letter points to the recent National Audit Office forecast of an eight per cent real-terms reduction in per-pupil funding between 2015 and 2020. The same NAO report warned that schools would have to find £3 billion in savings during this period.
The Spring Budget is due to be published on Wednesday, March 8, and the NAHT and NGA want to see action to “address the worst consequences of the funding shortfall facing schools”.
The letter, signed by NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby and NGA chief executive Emma Knights, adds: “An increase in National Insurance contributions, pension costs and the Apprenticeship Levy are all putting serious pressure on budgets that have remained static.”
It suggests a series of solutions:
- Increasing the basic per-pupil funding building blocks proposed in the new National Funding Formula (£2,712 in primary, £3,797 in key stage 3 and £4,312 in key stage 4).
- Ensuring maintained schools are given the same exclusions from the Apprenticeship Levy as those offered to standalone academies.
- Reversing the £600 million cut to the Education Services Grant.
- Reversing proposals that will leave high needs funding with a £124 million shortfall.
- Committing to sufficient funding for sixth forms.
- Ensuring that children eligible for the Pupil Premium are registered automatically.
The letter to the Treasury comes as new research published this week confirmed that education funding has fallen in real-terms since 2010.
The report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) finds that between 2010/11 and 2015/16, funding for education fell by around 14 per cent in real-terms – taking us back to 2005/06 levels.
Furthermore, the report says that spending per-pupil is expected to fall by 6.5 per cent in real-terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. The IFS also warns that the new National Funding Formula proposals will create “winners and losers” in terms of overall school funding.
Elsewhere this week, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Child Poverty Action Group have published new figures showing that the 1,000 schools with the highest number of children on free school meals are facing “much higher” cuts in funding than schools generally.
The NUT is part of the coalition of unions behind the School Cuts website, which is forecasting how increased costs and the National Funding Formula will affect schools between 2015 and 2020. The analysis shows that 98 per cent of schools in England will be worse off in real-terms by 2020.
However, the new figures show that in secondary schools with more than 40 per cent FSM, the average loss per-pupil will be £803 – £326 more than the average loss for secondary schools as a whole.
Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group said: “Poverty at home is the strongest statistical predictor of how well a child will do at school. But these new findings show that schools in the poorest areas would lose most from the government’s proposed new funding formula.
“That would widen the educational attainment gap and set many of our children up to fail. In the context of the prime minister’s social justice agenda, that outcome looks perverse.”
Mr Hobby said: “The picture looks bleak for schools – with 98 per cent set to lose funding at a time when costs are rising and pupil numbers are growing. Seven out of 10 school leaders in a recent NAHT survey said their budgets will be unsustainable by 2019.
“School leaders have already had to make increasingly difficult decisions and more drastic cuts. We have now got to a point where for many schools there are no obvious savings left to be made. School trips have been cancelled, text books are out of date, buildings are crumbling. The only thing left is to cut staff.
“The impact on learning will be significant. Class sizes in primary schools could rise, support for struggling children will be reduced, and some GCSE and A level subjects could be cut from the curriculum entirely as school budgets are pushed beyond breaking point.
“Sixteen to 18 education has been the biggest loser from education spending over the last 25 years and is set to fall further leaving spending per-student at a similar level in real terms to 30 years ago. This is unacceptable. Education is an investment in the future of our society and economy.”