Spring Budget: ‘A dereliction of duty’

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: iStock

As schools continue to warn about the huge funding pressures they face, the Spring Budget last week offered no relief, instead diverting funding to support new selective free schools. Pete Henshaw reports

“Schools are running out of things they can cut” – this was the pre-Budget message from headteachers to chancellor Philip Hammond, a message that seemingly has been ignored.

Mr Hammond was this week accused of a “dereliction of duty” after his Budget handed millions to potentially selective new free schools but gave nothing to existing schools.

With schools being forced to find savings of £3 billion by 2020 (see panel, School funding), education bodies, unions and headteachers themselves had called on Mr Hammond to offer some respite in his Budget.

The plea above came in a letter to the chancellor from the National Association of Head Teachers and National Governors’ Association (Funding crisis: Last-ditch bid to influence Spring Budget, SecEd, March 2016: http://bit.ly/2mhGoY4).

However, the Budget offered only an additional £216 million to “rebuild and refurbish existing schools”, a figure that has been criticised given the National Audit Office has said that £6.7 billion is needed to rebuild the schools estate (see panel, School funding).

The Budget’s headline education announcement, saw Mr Hammond confirm £320 million to be set aside to fund 140 new free schools by 2020, including “the creation of new selective free schools”. It means the government has now pledged to open 610 free schools, including 500 by 2020. These free schools will include “independent-led, faith, selective, university-led and specialist maths schools”, Mr Hammond confirmed.

The official Spring Budget document, however, implies that much more money has in fact been put aside. Spending forecasts in the documentation listed against ”extending free schools programme” show £20 million in 2017/18, £30 million in 2018/19, £50 million in 2019/20, £280 million in 2020/21, and £655 million in 2021/22.

In his Budget speech, Mr Hammond said: “Our forthcoming Schools White Paper will ask universities and private schools to sponsor new free schools. It will remove the barriers that prevent more good faith-based free schools from opening. And it will enable the creation of new selective free schools. We commit to this programme because we understand that choice is the key to excellence in education.”

Mr Hammond also unveiled £20 million between now and 2021/22 to extend free school transport to include all children on free school meals who attend a selective school.

Budget reaction

Education Policy Institute: “Bussing in extra Pupil Premium pupils to grammar schools will barely make a dent in the problem the government faces. The fact remains that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are 10 months behind their peers by the end of primary school and are simply less likely to pass a test at age 11 and get into a grammar school to begin with. Those that miss out are likely to suffer an attainment penalty. We know that there are around 90,000 poor pupils in any year group and this announcement can only ever help a fraction of them.”

National Union of Teachers: “This budget is a complete dereliction of duty to our young people. The chancellor knows full well that schools and sixth form colleges up and down the country are on their knees struggling to make ends meet. School budgets have been cut to the bone, class sizes have increased, subjects have been dropped from the curriculum, materials and resources are scarce yet nothing has been done to address this very serious problem. All this comes at a time of soaring pupil numbers and a developing crisis in teacher recruitment and retention.”

Association of School and College Leaders: “The Budget announcements fail to address the fact that schools and colleges are severely underfunded and are having to make significant cuts to their annual running costs. This means a reduced curriculum, less student support and larger class sizes.”

The Sutton Trust/Education Endowment Foundation: “We are concerned that the chancellor has done little to address the real-terms funding cuts facing many schools which are impacting adversely on teaching and the curriculum.”

National Association of Head Teachers: “For many schools, this Budget was their last chance. In our annual Breaking Point survey, 72 per cent of school leaders told us that their budgets will be unsustainable by 2019. For them, this Budget was a chance to address this, and they will be bitterly disappointed by the total absence of extra money for schools.
“Over the last few years, we have seen the Treasury give with one hand and take with the other, such as through increases in National Insurance and pension contributions. Now we are seeing the Treasury take with both hands, as £600 million will disappear through the Education Services Grant. Schools are being pushed beyond breaking point. The Budget does nothing to change that. It is difficult to bring in a new funding system, but doubly so if the money put in the system is not enough in the first place.”

National Children’s Bureau: “It’s extremely disappointing that the chancellor’s vision for schools focused on the ‘academically gifted’, rather than on giving all children the chance to fulfil their potential. It’s wrong to assume children are simply born ‘gifted’. Many children start school at a disadvantage – living in poverty, in an unstable family environment, or even at risk of neglect or abuse. These children have little chance of being deemed ‘gifted’, and it’s the government’s responsibility to ensure these children are not forgotten.”

Vocational education: Introducing T levels

While the chancellor was attacked for ignoring school funding, there was some cautious welcome for his announcement of £500 million a year for plans to create 15 new vocational and technical pathways – to be known as T levels.

These are to start from 2019/20 and will replace the 13,000 or so vocational qualifications currently available.

The policy has been based on the findings of high-profile reviews of vocational education by Lord Sainsbury, Baroness Wolf and other experts. This work concluded that a clearer system of qualifications was needed, designed and recognised by employers with clear routes into work, more time in the classroom, and good quality work placements.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said: “We will increase by over 50 per cent the number of hours’ training for 16 to 19-year-old technical students, including a high-quality three month work placement for every student, so when they qualify, they are genuinely ‘work-ready’.

“Once this programme is fully rolled out, we will be investing an additional £500 million a year in our 16 to 19-year-olds. And to encourage and support the best of them to go on to advanced technical study, we will offer maintenance loans for those undertaking higher level technical qualifications at the new Institutes of Technology and National Colleges.”

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he supported the plans. However, he added: “Currently, schools and colleges are having to reduce the number of GCSE, A level and vocational courses they provide because of funding pressures, and technical subjects are among those affected. In addition, technical education is not recognised pre-16 in the EBacc which the government wants 90 per cent of young people to take at GCSE.”

School funding: A bleak picture

In December, the National Audit Office warned that schools face having to find £3 billion in savings in this Parliament because of a range of rising cost pressures, including inflation and increased pension and National Insurance contributions.

The DfE insists it has protected the schools budget (which is due to rise from £39.6 billion in 2015/16 to £42.6 billion in 2019/20). However, the NAO says that the budget does not provide for funding per-pupil to increase with inflation.

With the number of pupils set to rise by 458,000 in the same period, the NAO warned that funding per-pupil will, on average, rise only from £5,447 in 2015/16 to £5,519 in 2019/20 – “a real-terms reduction once inflation is taken into account”. It means schools face real-terms per-pupil funding cuts of eight per cent in this period.

Further analysis by the union-led School Cuts website, which models the effect of these real-terms funding cuts and also the proposed new National Funding Formula on schools, claims that 98 per cent of schools in England face losing money by 2020 – with the average secondary to lose £477 a year per-pupil by 2020.

Furthermore, in February the NAO also warned that with 60 per cent of England’s schools having been built before 1976, we now need £6.7 billion to return all schools to “satisfactory or better condition”. The DfE’s Priority Schools Building Programme is replacing 214 schools entirely and then replacing or refurbishing blacks in 277 schools at a cost of £4.3 billion, although the PSBP is set to cost £286 million more than expected, the NAO said (School places: some progress made, but the challenge continues, SecEd, March 2017: http://bit.ly/2neDOWU).


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