Don’t shout about school funding ‘crisis’, says MAT CEO

But Sir Jon Coles warns government not to claim it is increasing funding for schools if it covers their increased teacher pension costs

Sir Jon Coles, chief executive of United Learning.

The head of England’s biggest academy chain has warned that schools risk a backlash if they shout about a funding “crisis” in a bid to secure more money.

Sir Jon Coles, who leads United Learning, told Tes that schools have a “rational case” for increased government funding, but need to recognise that other parts of the public sector have suffered worse cuts.

In May, the NAHT headteachers’ union voted to explore industrial action over what some of its members described as a "crisis in school funding".


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And Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has warned of the threat posed by the “funding crisis in our schools and colleges”.

However, Sir Jon, who spent 15 years as a senior official at the Department for Education, said: “I personally don’t think it’s that helpful to shout ‘it’s a crisis, it’s a disaster’ in a world where we know other public services have suffered bigger cuts than we have.

“That leads to a bit of a backlash, and we have seen that against a couple of good heads who made that case a bit more strongly than probably they should have done.

"We have seen pieces in the Mail and so on attacking those heads.

“So let’s be measured about it. Let’s be clear that we need more funding in schools. Let’s explain why, and do it in a way that recognises that there are other services that we rely on in schools which also need resources as well and make sure we make the case for them as well.”

In 2017, the union-led School Cuts campaign helped raise the profile of funding during the general election, and the issue was credited with causing more than 750,000 voters to switch parties.

Asked about those who believe the sector needs to portray a worst-case scenario, Sir Jon said: “Having spent a long time in government, I would say that the track record of people who have over-stated their case is not good because they just alienate people and I think that because we’ve got a good, rational case, we should make that.”

Sir Jon also raised concerns about the 43 per cent increase in contributions schools have to make to the Teachers' Pension Scheme (TPS).

He said that while the Treasury has only said it will fund this for the first year, in practice, it will have to continue doing so in the future.

However, he added: “I am concerned that the decision to continue funding that will be presented as an increase in school funding and any increase in school funding has to be an actual increase in school funding.

“Let’s not get into a smoke and mirrors conversation that continuing with TPS funding is an increase in school funding. It isn’t. It’s simply meeting a cost pressure that is entirely inflicted by the government.”

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