School funding cuts implemented by the Conservative Government put education at risk. The May 2017 General Election showed that education funding is hugely important to voters, but Government announcements since then have been disappointing and will not stop the huge cuts hitting schools now. Increased funding is desperately needed to safeguard our children’s education. The NEU wants the Government to change course and ‘invest, don’t cut’.
The impact of inflation, and extra costs such as higher employer national insurance and pension contributions, means that the actual value of funding per pupil in real-terms will fall by as much as 8% or more. A 2017 National Audit Office (NAO) report states that mainstream schools will have to make £3 billion in ‘efficiency savings’ by 2019-20 against the backdrop of the increased costs.
The NEU and other education unions have launched an interactive website which shows how much schools and colleges in England and Wales are likely to lose in real terms, according to the Government’s plans for school and college funding.
In April 2018 the NEU surveyed its members on funding cuts in their schools. The findings showed:
- 94% of respondents said they were pessimistic about their schools budget prospects over the next three years.
- 55% said class sizes had risen since last year.
- Over half of respondents reported that teaching posts had been cut; 80% reported teaching assistant posts being cut; and 60% reported other support staff posts being cut.
- The impact of cuts to teaching posts had been hardest in non-Ebacc subjects.
- Cuts to Special Educational Needs provision was reported by almost two thirds of respondents.
- Cuts to school maintenance budgets, led to one respondent talking of cleaning cutbacks and how their school was ‘filthy’.
The funding problems will be hugely increased for many schools by the Government’s plans to introduce a National Funding Formula (NFF) for schools.
A NFF for schools will redistribute funding around the country but due to the Government’s real-terms cuts every part of England has lost out. The removal of local decision making on the allocation of funding, in favour of tighter control of funding from Whitehall, will adversely impact accountability, transparency and local democratic control of education funding.
The Government has changed the system for allocating funding for high needs/SEND pupils to schools and academies. It has not, however, conducted a proper assessment of the funding needed to provide high quality support for such pupils.
Local authorities play a vital role in supporting schools by providing specialist support services and expertise as well as coordinating high needs provision. But Government cuts to local authority funding mean a significant reduction in the support available to schools, while the changes to the high needs funding system do not take account of the value that local authority support can add. Local authority cuts are also putting extra strain on home to school transport for disabled children. The NEU believes the Government is failing in its duty to provide proper support for pupils with high needs and it will continue to argue for adequate funding levels.
Although school funding was maintained in real-terms per pupil under the Coalition Government, all additional funding was provided via the Pupil Premium, targeted at particular pupils and therefore distributed unevenly. Many schools had to use Pupil Premium funding simply to plug the gaps caused by cuts in the value of other funding.
The Education Services Grant (ESG), which funds spending on school improvement, management of school buildings and tackling non-attendance, was cut by £200 million (around 20%) in 2015-16. There will be a further cut of £600 million between 2016-17 and 2019-20 and the LA role will reduce, meaning even less support for schools. Plans for further deep cuts in funding for services provided by local authorities will also have an impact on young people. These will cause cuts to services to schools such as school improvement, behavioural and pupil support services, music services and outdoor education as well as to services such as libraries, youth services and child protection.
Early years’ funding is also a concern. The Government’s simplistic approach to early years’ reforms will impact on nursery schools particularly hard. The level of funding provided to different providers will be levelled out but Private, Voluntary and Independent (PVI) providers can increase their fees to adjust for this. Maintained schools with nursery provision cannot do so. This coupled with the requirement to employ qualified teachers means that nursery schools and other schools with early years’ provision face significant additional costs compared to PVI providers.
Following pressure from NEU and others on early years funding, the Government made some changes to its proposals, providing some additional transitional funding and allowing some funding on the basis of quality. However, the Government has still not understood that it needs to invest more in early years to support high quality provision so threats remain.
Funding for 16-19 education overall was devastated under the Coalition Government, with huge real-terms cuts estimated at 14%. The cumulative impact of funding cuts since 2011 meant by November 2017, 50% of colleges and schools that responded to a survey had dropped modern foreign language courses; 34% had dropped science, technology, engineering and maths courses; 77% had increased class sizes; and 58% did not believe that the funding allocated for 2018-19 would be sufficient to provide a high quality education.
The National Audit Office has reported that capital spending on schools and colleges has been cut by over one-third in real-terms since 2010-11. The Building Schools for the Future programme was scrapped in 2010, cancelling 700 building projects. The replacement Priority School Building Project has a fraction of the funding - not all schools that applied to the project for funding were successful and not all of those that were will be rebuilt or fully refurbished as they would have been under the BSF. The NAO report stated that it would cost some £6.7 billion to repair all school buildings to a satisfactory standard.
Although the Government has, under pressure from the NEU and others, allocated extra funding for school places, local authorities say that this is not enough to fund the places needed. The impact of any new funding will be hampered by the Government’s insistence that any new schools must be academies or free schools.
Government cuts are affecting schools in Wales as well. Although the first minister has committed to increase spending on education by 1% more than the increase in the block grant to Wales every year, this won’t be enough to cope with the cost increases from inflation and other sources. As in England, Welsh schools are being forced to find in year budget cuts resulting in teacher and support staff job losses, increased class sizes, lack of resources and inadequate school buildings. Schools in Wales have also had to use the Pupil Premium to plug gaps in funding shortages.
Per pupil funding for schools in Wales has generally been lower than in for those in England, however in recent years the gap between school spending in England and Wales has virtually closed. In 2018 the IFS has found that between 2009/10 and 2017/18, per pupil spending in England fell by approximately 8% in real terms, compared to around 5% in Wales. This means that although total school spending has risen by around 1% in England (compared to a fall of 5% in Wales), pupil numbers in England have increased rapidly by around 10% whilst staying fairly constant over the border, resulting in a closing of the funding gap.