Commenting on the setting out of the Government’s legislative programme, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“Boris Johnson is performing his usual trick of re-announcing and repackaging previous announcements, in the hope no one will notice the general lack of new money. Commitments to the National Tutoring Programme, as part of the Government’s recovery plan announced in February, total just £200 million which will be spread very thinly across schools. The £302m boost to the Pupil Premium, announced at the same time, is well short of the £750m recommended by the Sutton Trust and the NEU and makes a mockery of the Government’s efforts today to talk tough on child poverty. It can scarcely be described as ‘levelling up’.

“The Government must invest properly in education to enable children and young people to recover. The Government has only set aside £250 per pupil, which compares poorly with other nations such as the Netherlands and the United States who are investing £2,500 and £1,600 per pupil respectively. (1)

“In addition, schools have had to shoulder most of the costs of managing coronavirus, whether it be additional supply costs, or cleaning and lost income, and are now struggling financially. On top of which, the Government have imposed a stealth cut on schools by moving the census date, taking £150m out of school budgets at a stroke. None of this inspires confidence that schools will have the necessary resources to support pupils to recover and build strong learning. The Government must prioritise education in the forthcoming Spending Review so that schools can increase the number of properly-qualified teachers on staff and bring down our historically high  class-sizes.

“It is good that the Government are at last focusing on post-16 education, after more than a decade of neglect and a lack of joined-up thinking. However, unless there is sufficient funding in place the realisation of the Government's ambition of high-quality training and a comprehensive offer to young people will simply not happen.

“A focus on lifetime skills is important and necessary but for this to become a reality funding and support needs to be put in place. Colleges and the post-16 sector have been severely underfunded, leading to a £1.1bn gap in real-terms funding for 16-19 education between 2010 and 2020 which the Government has done very little to address. This has left the sector struggling not only to make ends meet, but to provide the sort of training and qualifications the country desperately needs. 

“Introducing a student finance system for Further Education which moves closer to that for Higher Education is the wrong step. Returning to the student maintenance system abolished in 2011 would be a much better way of supporting participation and the acquisition of skills and qualifications.

“Efforts to cut arts funding in higher education by 50%, as revealed last week, suggest that the Government’s ‘strategic priorities’ around skills will be at the expense of another valuable part of the economy. It is a further indication of the Government’s narrow concerns when it comes to running education.

“Covid has been an extraordinary year for young people and staff across all our schools and colleges. The Government must commit to a realistic period of education recovery, where the profession is supported and valued to respond to gaps in learning and to the huge financial pressures on many families. The education workforce has displayed innovation and deep commitment. Retaining education staff and ensuring a much better work life balance for all staff must move much higher up the agenda. Investing in, and valuing staff is the right thing to do, but also connects directly to good outcomes for young people through retaining skills in the workforce.”

ENDS

Editor’s Note

  1. Analysis paper: preliminary research findings on education recovery, Education Policy Institute, April 2021: https://epi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/EPI-Education-Recovery-Preliminary-Analysis-2021.pdf

2021-087-NEU

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