Exclusive: Government is ignoring schools 'buckling' under funding pressures, ex-DfE official warns

By Martin George on 13 April 2018

Education Policy Institute executive director Natalie Perera warns that disadvantaged pupils will be hardest hit by the financial squeeze on school budgets

A former civil servant who led work on school funding has accused the government of not listening to schools that say they are “buckling” under financial pressures.

Natalie Perera, who was head of school funding reform at the Department for Education from 2011 to 2014, is now executive director and head of research at the Education Policy Institute.

Last month, it published a report saying that the proportion of maintained secondary schools with deficits had almost trebled in the four years up to 2016-17.

Ms Perera told Tes: “What we do know is that there are a large number of schools out there who tell us they are buckling under the funding pressure, and I do not understand why government is not listening to them.

“The narrative is that we trust teachers, we trust leaders, we want them to be autonomous, we want to devolve power to schools, but yet on funding when they tell us that they are falling down, government’s saying, ‘Oh you’ve got more money than ever, deal with it.'”

She believes that the DfE simply can’t publicly acknowledge the problem.

DfE 'can't admit to funding crisis'

“They are probably using all of our reports, stuff the IFS [Institute for Fiscal Studies] has put out and going to the Treasury and saying ‘Look, we are in a bit of a sticky situation here', but publicly they can’t say that. It’s political suicide.”

She warned that disadvantaged pupils will be worst hit by the financial squeeze.

“It’s the things that enable education to happen that will suffer: the pastoral care, the after-school clubs,” she said.

“There is enough money in the system, I’m sure, to put 30 children in a class in front of a teacher, but if you have got children there with additional needs, EAL, mental health needs, kids who are hungry, then just sitting them down in a classroom in front of a teacher ain’t going to fix that.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our national funding formula means that, for the first time, school funding is being distributed according to the individual needs of every school in the country. Core school funding will rise to a record £43.5 billion by 2020 - the highest ever - and a 50 per cent real terms per pupil increase from 2000.

“We trust schools to manage their own budgets, but offer support to help them get the most out of every pound they spend – and latest figures show that schools hold surpluses of more than £4 billion.”

This is an edited article from the 13 March edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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