'School funding pledges are just smoke and mirrors'

The government has promised extra cash – but the reality is that school budgets are getting tighter, says Colin Harris

Colin Harris

The government's promises of extra cash won't solve the school funding crisis, says Colin Harris

If you believe anything the government says at the moment, you might be inclined to believe that education is awash with money. Austerity is over and schools will be one of the main beneficiaries. 

Oh, for this to be anywhere near the truth. The reality felt by every headteacher and their governing body is the inadequate budgets of recent years are just getting thinner. And more money for the future certainly doesn't help us and our pupils today.

But let's investigate the realities of our government’s so-called investment in schools. The £14 billion boost for schools over the next four years becomes just £4.3 billion when inflation and triple counting of each year's increase are taken into consideration. 

Therefore schools will see a 7.4 per cent increase. When you consider that education funding has dropped by 8 per cent since the start of the coalition government in 2010, it will mean that education funding levels may be the same as they were in 2010.

The school funding crisis

In itself, these figures are a shameful indictment of the effects of austerity on education. But let's not forget the 700,000 extra pupils who have entered the system since 2010. Nor the fact that the capital budget will be slashed by 10 per cent from £5 billion in 2019-20 to £4.5 billion in 2020-21.

The effects are all too plain to see for anyone who works in or visits our schools. We have lost far too many quality teachers, who have not and will never be replaced. It also appears that education is no longer a desirable profession for far too many young adults. 

We have also lost numerous support assistants and health professionals, who provided quality support for many of our pupils. In addition to these losses, we must look at the numerous departments closed to meet financial cutbacks – departments that will never be replaced. All this results in pupils receiving the most narrow curriculum offered in the past 50 years. 

The government’s guarantee of £4,000 per primary pupil and £5,000 per secondary pupil is all an elaborate use of smoke and mirrors to blind us. Very few schools will benefit, and the reality will be that 80 per cent of schools will have less money in 2020 than they received in 2015. Of course, the most vulnerable pupils will take the full impact, as usual.

Pupils are the unlucky losers

I was lucky that I was a headteacher when genuine money was in the system, with a Labour government offering big year-on-year funding increases. We were able to meet needs head-on, offering support and a quality education. Imagine what our system would look like if these funding streams had been maintained.

Smokescreens will gradually clear, and we will see whether funding will actually increase. Whatever happens, the reality of funding for education since 2010 should be viewed as a national shame, with all the pupils attending schools in the period the unlucky losers.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were “outstanding” across all categories

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