Funding cuts do risk education quality, Spielman admits

But Ofsted chief faces backlash from heads over comments that suggest some schools are at fault and have "squandered" money

Amy Gibbons

Ofsted's chief inspector has admitted the school funding crisis does pose a risk to the quality of education

Ofsted's chief inspector has admitted the school funding crisis does pose a risk to the quality of education, despite previously insisting there is no evidence to suggest learning is hampered by government cuts.

In a blog published today, Amanda Spielman reported on the findings of research that the watchdog had conducted on the impact of school funding pressures.

The chief inspector acknowledged that financial pressures, resulting from a mixture of cuts, rising costs and "instability and uncertainty" around both expenditure and income, mean schools are having "to make tough decisions and difficult choices".

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Spielman: 'No evidence' cuts are harming education

But she warned that schools are sometimes not considering the impact of their responses to a lack of funding.

"Schools were responding to these pressures by reducing staffing, cutting back on non-essential building maintenance, and limiting additional provision for pupils, not least those with SEND," she wrote.

"In many cases, we found that schools were making these decisions in an informed way, using benchmarking and other evidence.

"However, too often we found that decision-makers were not sufficiently monitoring the impact of their decisions on the quality of education and on their most vulnerable pupils."

She added: "Poor decision-making in response to financial pressure is potentially harmful to quality of education. But this could be as big an issue when funding is increased.

"Funding can still be squandered when it is plentiful, meaning taxpayers’ money could be wasted for little benefit."

Despite this, Ms Spielman said there is "no hard evidence" that the strains faced by schools are "at the expense of academic outcomes", as attainment has remained "broadly stable".

She said this "seeming contradiction" could be explained by the fact that schools are working hard to maintain standards, though the long-term sustainability of their efforts is "questionable".

"We cannot keep pushing teachers to the limit and beyond," she added.

Ms Spielman said three main areas were affected by financial pressures facing schools: SEND provision, curriculum breadth and education quality, and teacher workload.

She added: "Although staff cuts may be necessary, this is sometimes being done with insufficient monitoring of the effects on quality of education.

"This is clearly not the way to ensure that children and young people get the education they deserve."

In September 2018, Ms Spielman said Ofsted had no evidence that the quality of education had been affected by school funding cuts.

The chief inspector was pushing back against criticism from the Commons Public Accounts Committee that she had not spoken out or answered MPs' questions about the impact of funding pressures.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We haven't seen anything yet from school inspections that says that schools are unable to provide a good quality of education by reason of funding."

Ms Spielman's blog, published this morning, was removed from Ofsted's website a short time later. A spokesperson said it had been shared in error, and was intended to be read alongside a separate report that will be published in the coming weeks.

Stephen Rollett, curriculum and inspection specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "We welcome the chief inspector’s acknowledgement of the damage done by the school funding crisis, but we are disappointed that she accuses schools of failing to do enough to monitor the impact of the cuts they have had to make.

"Let’s be clear that the blame lies with the government which has caused the crisis by failing to fund schools properly and leaving them with no alternative other than to make cuts.

"Schools spend most of their budget on staffing so they don’t have any option other than to reduce courses and extra-curricular provision if they have to make cuts. It is the last thing they want to do but they have been left with impossible choices, and no amount of monitoring makes that situation any better.

"The government has now pledged more money for schools, which is a welcome move, but it is not enough to reverse the cuts."

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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