At the weekend, I spoke at a rally in Westminster where hundreds of parents had given up their Sunday afternoon to protest against the real-terms cuts being made to school budgets.
The event was the latest in a long series which have taken place all over the country since before the general election. Parent power has been instrumental in pushing school funding to the top of the political agenda.
As I said to parents on Sunday, we cannot allow the government to wriggle off the hook when it comes to funding. Yesterday’s announcement of £1.3 billion only amounts to just £400 million next year and £800 million the year after that. While we welcome any additional funding for schools, what’s on offer is well below the £2 billion a year extra that schools need to address real-terms cuts. It’s clear that the Department for Education has listened to our concerns, and is doing its bit to address the funding gap. However, the Treasury is not backing this up with new, additional funding.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies says the government’s offer represents a real-terms freeze on school budgets for the next two years. This won’t satisfy the parents, governors, teachers and school leaders who marched in Westminster at the weekend. I don’t see an end to the school funding campaign in the near future. We’ll continue to press for more. The chancellor still has a chance to do more in the Autumn Budget. No one in government should regard the matter as settled. Efficiency savings can only go so far in addressing the fact that there is not enough money in the system.
A long wait for the cash
It has not been widely reported yet, but the £1.3 billion promised will not begin to reach schools until April 2018 at the earliest, so school leaders will still have to take difficult decisions about cuts to staffing, the curriculum offer, pastoral support and repairs. The funding announcement is too little and comes too late to have a meaningful positive impact on the coming academic year.
During the election campaign, many feared the demise of the national funding formula. I’m pleased to see an ongoing commitment to the new formula and to pupils with high needs. Unfortunately, schools will still have to wait at least another two years before they are given their funding directly.
For now, funding will continue to be worked out at a school level by the DfE, based on the characteristics of the pupils in each school, but then will be handed to local authorities to determine how much each school gets based on their own local formula, even determining how much each academy gets based on the same formula.
So while we will have one formula for setting the funding, we will continue to have 152 local formulae.
I don’t see how we can achieve real fairness while this is still the case, and NAHT will be pushing hard to ensure that the government gives clear guidance to local authorities to avoid this distortion. Otherwise, the Conservative manifesto promise that no school will lose out in cash per-pupil terms under the national funding formula will be almost impossible to deliver.
Longer term, we must get to a real national funding formula, with sufficient funding to keep up our educational standards. School funding is increasing by a modest amount, but the demand on schools has never been higher. We still believe that schools need at least an extra £2 billion per year.
Paul Whiteman is general secretary designate of the NAHT heads' union. He tweets @PaulWhiteman6