Commenting ahead of tomorrow’s Budget Speech in the Commons, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“With public services already stretched and strained under years of under-investment, the spread of the coronavirus ought to focus minds at Whitehall.  We need to protect the social infrastructure of this country, not just in the short term. And it is this measure by which the NEU will judge Rishi Sunak’s first Budget.

“There are young people now approaching college age who have been taught entirely under Conservative-led Governments. What they have experienced in that time are the effects of persistent underfunding through all stages of learning, and these conditions remain in spite of all the noise at the last General Election about ‘levelling up’. The facts make a mockery of this claim.

“The Government’s pledge last year to increase school funding by £7.1 billion over the next three years was very welcome, but still fell short of the £12.6 billion we estimate is needed to replace the cuts made since 2015 let alone provide a world-class education for every child. 83% of schools are worse off this April in real terms than in 2015. Maintained nurseries continue to survive hand to mouth, with many under threat of closure due to insufficient budgets. And 16-19 education continues to be the most severely affected, which is why so many of our members in sixth form colleges are on strike today.

“Schools and colleges continue to fall into disrepair, and at the present rate it will take several decades to rebuild them all. This ought to be a central plank of the Green New Deal, to ensure buildings are more efficient, but it remains a sorry legacy of the Gove era that regeneration continues to be a low priority of Government. Their inaction on asbestos is the most grievous example of all.

“Children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) are bearing the brunt of austerity. Schools find it impossible to get the support needed because of ever-expanding waiting lists. Very clearly demand has far outstripped supply, and it is the children who suffer. 93% of local authorities have lost out on SEND funding since 2015 because of Government cuts to special needs provision. The recent announcement of an additional £780 million for SEND is clearly inadequate in the face of a £1.7 billion shortfall.

“With 4.1 million children and young people now growing up in poverty, we hope rumours are unfounded that free school meals are to be reduced. As the recent report of the Institute for Social and Economic Research shows, the expansion of FSM has already paid dividends with noticeable downward trends in childhood obesity. It also makes good sense as an investment, that children who are healthy and alert will grow in esteem and feel more engaged in school life.

“We hope the Chancellor pays heed to the headteachers, teachers, support assistants, parents and governors who see first-hand, every day, the detrimental impact under-funding of our education service has on the children and young people they teach or care for.”