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Heads urge Ofsted to look at school funding pressures

Union boss says time has come for inspectorate to make the connection between funding and standards

Paul Whiteman, NAHT, headteacher, school funding, real terms funding cuts, Ofsted

Union boss says time has come for inspectorate to make the connection between funding and standards

Headteachers have said the time has come for Ofsted to measure the impact of funding pressures on schools as part of its annual report.

Ofsted will publish a report today setting out its findings about the state of the nation’s education system.

The NAHT headteachers' union is urging the inspectorate to include funding as part of this report in future.

General secretary Paul Whiteman said: Four-fifths of school leaders (79 per cent) are expecting a deficit budget for the 2019/20 academic year. Almost two thirds (65 per cent) strongly agreed that the reductions they have had to make have resulted in a negative impact on the performance of the school.

“So far, Ofsted has not made a connection between funding and standards, but the time is surely upon us when they must. An annual health-check of the nation’s education system is incomplete without a view about whether the demands placed on schools can be met within the current financial picture.”

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman sparked controversy earlier this year when she said the inspectorate had not seen evidence from its reports that funding cuts were harming the quality of education.

However, the initial findings of an Ofsted survey into teacher wellbeing, published last week, did highlight a lack of funding as an issue which was having a negative impact.

An Ofsted spokesperson said: "As HM Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said in a letter to the Public Accounts Committee, "as funding growth has slowed, school leaders have had to work harder to balance their budgets and we see this necessitating some difficult choices. Currently, however, my inspectors are not seeing an impact on education standards."

"Since funding growth has slowed we will do research next year to find out what impact that is having on the ground. What we do know is that thanks to the hard work of teachers, this is not yet having an impact on attainment data or Ofsted grades."

Last week, the new interim National Schools Commissioner, Dominic Herrington, told Tes that he did not accept that schools faced a funding crisis.

Mr Herrington dismissed the findings of this year’s Tes-National Governance Association survey of more than 5,000 school governors where three-quarters raised concerns that funding pressures would damage the quality of education.

He also cited the comments from Ms Spielman that the inspectorate had found no evidence that school cuts were affecting the quality of education .

Ms Spielman, who will present Ofsted's annual report today, is due to say that schools cannot be a "panacea" to all "societal ills".

Health professionals, parents and safeguarding partners should all play a role in protecting, educating and preparing children for adult life, she will say.

Ms Spielman believes that expectations on schools to address obesity, child neglect and gang-related violence risks distracting them from their core purpose and results in a failure to solve such problems.

"Our education and care services don't exist in isolation from the local areas they serve," Ms Spielman is expected to say.

It will be her second annual report since replacing Sir Michael Wilshaw as Ofsted’s chief inspector.

Mr Whiteman added: "Ofsted’s Annual Report is always a landmark moment in the education calendar. This year, school leaders will be looking to see what Ofsted has to say about funding and workload as well as their plans for the future of inspection. 

“Too often, teachers and leaders are put off working in schools in challenging areas because they simply do not believe that the accountability system will treat them fairly.

“NAHT’s research shows the scale of the problem. 77 per cent of school leaders found recruitment a struggle last year, while 67 per cent said staff had left for reasons other than retirement. Sixty-three per cent said that they would like a ‘less punitive accountability system’.

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