Funding pledge: We’re not out of the woods yet

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Boris Johnson’s £14.5bn funding package offers no immediate relief and will still leave many schools facing financial challenges in the immediate years ahead. Pete Henshaw looks at the recent funding pledges

The school system in England “still has several years of managing the effects of funding cuts ahead” despite prime minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of a £14.5 billion investment between now and 2022/23.

An analysis of the government’s plans by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) finds that once inflation, high needs funding, and rising pupil numbers are taken into account, the investment amounts to a real-terms increase of £2.4 billion.

Education unions have welcomed the investment but say it is not enough to fully reverse eight years of austerity and the real-terms cuts to schools budgets since 2010.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) disagrees, however, and says that the funding should be “near enough sufficient” to have reversed the cuts to school spending by 2023.

The EPI, meanwhile, warns that when it comes to individual schools, all that is guaranteed by the plan is “a funding increase in line with inflation, rather than a reversal of cuts”.

It says that the extra funding is more likely to benefit schools in affluent areas given the prime minster’s pledge to level-up underfunded authorities.
The funding package was announced by Mr Johnson on August 30 and then outlined by chancellor Sajid Javid during his Spending Review in the House of Commons on Wednesday, September 4.

Mr Javid confirmed that the investment will see £2.6 billion extra added to the schools budget in 2020/21. An additional £2.2 billion will be injected in 2021/22, and a further £2.3 billion in 2022/23.

It means that by 2023 the annual schools budget will rise (compared to 2019/20 levels) by £7.1 billion. Cumulatively, the funding package amounts to £14.5 billion.

Included within this is £700 million extra pledged for children with SEND in 2020/21 as well as the funding for the recent pledge to raise teachers’ starting salaries by around £6,000 to £30,000 by 2022/23.

The EPI analysis states: “Schools will be mindful that (the £30,000) creates an increased cost pressure on their budgets that will erode some of the increases announced. The announcement lacks the detail required to really understand the scale of that pressure and how it will be felt by schools, but as nearly one in four classroom teachers currently earns under £30,000 it is likely to be far from negligible.”

On SEND, the EPI warns that the £700 million investment may not be enough to meet demand by 2022/23. This is due to rising numbers of pupils with SEND as well as historical anomalies in the High Needs Funding Formula that mean pupils in one local authority can attract less funding than a pupil with similar needs elsewhere.

The EPI states: “If the additional £700 million is held flat in real terms it will mean that by 2022/23 the overall high needs budget will be some
£600 million short of what is required according to the Education Select Committee.”

Critics this week have also pointed out that the schools budget was expected to rise by around £1 billion by 2023 in any case because of rising pupil numbers.

But Downing Street said that Mr Johnson has now delivered on his pledge to increase school funding by £4.6 billion above inflation and to “level-up” funding per-pupil.

Mr Javid said that every secondary school will receive a minimum of £5,000 per pupil next year (up from £4,800) and every primary school will get £3,750, rising to £4,000 in 2021/22 (up from £3,500 currently).

However, the EPI warns that in order to meet this commitment, historically underfunded schools which are below the threshold will be taking “a disproportionate share” of the £14.5 billion. Its analysis shows that these schools tend to serve more affluent areas without high levels of disadvantaged pupils.

As such, the EPI warns that the impact of the government’s funding investment on individual schools will vary depending on their circumstances and location and that disadvantaged schools may miss out.

It states: “The system still has several years of managing the effects of funding cuts ahead. The scale of increases is going to vary across different schools and, for individual schools, this announcement only guarantees a funding increase in line with inflation, rather than a reversal of cuts.

“Those schools that have historically been ‘underfunded’ will see the largest increases. That’s likely to mean that additional funding will be disproportionately directed towards the least disadvantaged schools with the least challenging intakes, at a time when progress in closing the attainment gap has stalled and may be about to go into reverse. Schools with high levels of disadvantage are also likely to feel the greatest cost pressures resulting from increases in teacher pay.”

Luke Sibieta, a research fellow at the IFS, said: “Since 2009/10, school spending per pupil has fallen by eight per cent in real-terms in England. The new spending plans should be near enough sufficient to reverse these cuts by 2022/23.

“However, a 13-year period of no net growth in school spending per pupil, after inflation, still represents a significant squeeze on school budgets when considered in historical terms.”

The education unions are cautious. Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “The announcement of £7.1 billion will go some way to restoring the real-terms cuts we’ve seen in education since 2010 but will not chalk it all off. Schools in more affluent areas appear to benefit most, so we’ll have to look at that carefully.”

Elsewhere, schools are to receive an additional £4.4 billion over three years to cover the rising costs of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.

There is also an extra £400 million for 16 to 19 education in 2020/21, including £190 million to increase the base rate to £4,188 per student (it has been frozen at £4,000 since 2013). However, this falls short of the £4,760 that the Education Select Committee has called on the government to deliver as a matter of urgency.

Within the £400 million, there is also £120 million to help deliver more expensive subjects, £35 million for interventions to support students who failed GCSE maths and English, £25 million to deliver T levels from September 2020, £10 million for the advanced maths premium, and £20 million to help recruitment and retention.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The analysis by the EPI shows some schools are unlikely to see a full reversal of cuts, additional funding for pupils with high needs is short of what is required, and the spending plans only repair a quarter of the cuts experienced in 16 to 19 education since 2011.

“The extra funding will provide no immediate relief to schools because it will not be introduced until 2020/21. The extra funding is a major step forward but the job is not done on education funding.”

The National Education Union echoed the point. Joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “Not a single penny has been promised until next April but the school cuts are happening right now.”

Elsewhere, detail is still to come on the £30,000 starting salary pledge when education secretary Gavin Williamson sets out his remit for the School Teachers’ Review Body ahead of next year’s pay award. He will also ask for its view on “the introduction of progression points in pay”.

The NASUWT said the pay increase was “long overdue”, but is disappointed that it is to be delayed until 2023.

General secretary Chris Keates said: “Measures are needed now to drastically improve teachers’ pay and conditions and to end the recruitment and retention crisis affecting schools. The government must also ensure that investment in teachers’ salaries also guarantees improvements in the pay of all teachers, including experienced teachers.”

The DfE has also unveiled its plans to introduce a group of “Ambassador Schools” to champion flexible working practices, offering case studies and practical resources as part of a “flexible working toolkit”.

Mr Williamson added: “Other sectors have embraced flexible working and the benefits it provides – I want to see the same in schools. There are great things happening in some schools, but I want it to be the norm.”

Further information

The government’s one-year spending round, EPI, September 2019:


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