It's time for more funding and less blame

Written by: Deborah Lawson | Published:
Deborah Lawson, general secretary, Voice

Per-pupil funding is set to be lower in 2019/20 than it was in 2015, but if we are to solve the funding crisis we must end the blame game, says Deborah Lawson

All education establishments, from early years to further and higher education, are suffering the consequences of years of austerity measures.

Reports of larger classes, dilapidated buildings, diminishing SEND support and universities on the brink of bankruptcy are all too common. It’s unacceptable that education professionals should continue to struggle.

Financial experts provided by the Department for Education (DfE) to support schools with funding pressures have reportedly found £35 million of savings across 70 schools – good news, but it won’t solve the funding crisis.

The wisdom of the claim from school system minister Lord Agnew that schools are wasting colossal sums of money is questionable – especially when school leaders and governors are working flat-out to try to balance their budgets, while maintaining, and improving, the quality of education they provide, and supporting their teachers and support staff to deliver that education.

The Budget announcement that schools would get a share of £400 million in capital funding for “little extras” incensed the profession, not least because the agreed 3.5 per cent teacher pay rise was not fully funded as ministers insisted, and no additional funding was announced for teacher pay.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published figures showing that per-pupil funding is set to be lower in 2019/20 than it was in 2015, because the per-pupil amount has not kept pace with rising costs.

The funding crisis has devastated SEND provision, where increasing demand has not been matched with increased funding. This has restricted the support schools can provide and prevented them from planning for anything other than further cuts, including to invaluable teaching assistants and specialist teachers.

This has left children without the help and support they need and parents angry and frustrated, leading to numerous and costly applications and appeals from parents, and increased workload for teachers and support staff.

The education secretary recognised these cost pressures with his announcement in December of an extra £350 million for councils to help support pupils with SEND. We welcome any additional funding but question its sufficiency. There is a potential funding gap of £1.6 billion by 2020/21, according to research from the Local Government Association (LGA).

Meanwhile, a BBC investigation in January found that thousands of SEN children in England are waiting too long for an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). Once such a plan is requested, councils should normally finalise them within 20 weeks, but through Freedom of Information requests the BBC discovered that around four in 10 have taken longer.

However, we need to get away from the blame culture, with parents blaming schools, schools blaming local authorities, all of the above blaming the DfE, and the DfE blaming the Treasury.

Schools and other agencies all want to play their part, want to work with each other so that pupils can have realistic and workable EHCPs, and want all other partners involved to play their part, too, but all are under enormous financial and capacity pressures.

We are all aware of what is driving the inadequacies of the system: funding. Both schools and local authorities and other agencies are suffering the effects of the shortage of funds, particularly for SEND.

Agencies’ thresholds for providing help have gone up as funding has decreased, widening the gap through which children can fall. The cost of SEND appeals and judicial reviews would also reduce if schools and local authorities had sufficient funding. The government needs to enable all agencies to have the capacity – and the funding – to work together.

The DfE will be gathering evidence on the financial incentives that influence how schools, colleges and councils support children and young people with SEN.

Given the budgetary pressures on schools, we are pleased that the DfE will, as part of its evidence-gathering, be looking at the first £6,000 schools pay for SEND support costs before accessing additional funding from local high needs budgets.

We will be providing evidence to the DfE as part of our on-going work on this issue.

  • Deborah Lawson is the general secretary of Voice.


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