Well, what utterly bleak reading Ofsted’s report on the school funding crisis makes. And what a devastating indictment of government policy it adds up to.
For those who have not been following the strange events of the past few days, here’s a quick recap. A blog by chief inspector Amanda Spielman was briefly published on Wednesday about an Ofsted survey on school funding pressures, only to be hastily removed from Ofsted’s website, but not before being spotted by sharp-eyed journalists.
This morning, hey presto, it was republished, along with the survey report itself.
We are told that the mix-up was the result of a technical error. These things happen. Now, what we finally get is the full stark picture in the report itself. Here are a few of the findings:
- Forty-one per cent of primary school headteachers and 91 per cent of secondary school headteachers reported that class sizes have increased.
- “In the schools that we visited, some staff described difficulties resulting from these larger classes because of the capacity of classrooms. Some also described how teachers were less able to offer effective support for individual pupils because of increased pupil numbers.”
- Eighty per cent of primary headteachers and 72 per cent of secondary headteachers reported that their school has made changes to the way it meets the needs of pupils with SEND because of financial pressure.
- “The amount of expert support for pupils with SEND has been reduced in some schools. Some schools reported that they have decreased their use of external services, such as educational psychology, behavioural support and alternative provision, because they cannot afford them.”
- “Forty-four per cent of primary school headteachers and 67 per cent of secondary school headteachers who responded to our survey reported that responses to financial pressure over the last two years have led to some reduction in curriculum breadth in their schools."
- “For primary schools, the subjects that these headteachers most commonly told us had suffered were computing, music, design and technology, art and design, and languages. For secondary schools, these were design and technology, languages, citizenship, music and computing.”
Most of us would think it obvious where the blame lies – with a government which has short-changed schools and the pupils they serve while insisting they have never had it so good.
But Ofsted wouldn’t be Ofsted without having a swipe at schools.
And so we see in the chief inspector’s blog, casting doubt on the decision-making of at least some schools, claims that school leaders have failed to monitor the impact of the cuts they have had to make, and this inflammatory paragraph:
“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 spent for little benefit.”
The use of the word "squandered" is particularly disrespectful, and notably does not appear in the survey report itself.
School leaders who have spent the past few years fretting over every pound and penny will respond with fury and dismay. And we have already pointed that out to the chief inspector.
Let’s be clear. The responsibility for the school funding crisis and its impact rests with the government. It has left school leaders in an impossible position over where to make cuts. Our experience is they have agonised over these decisions to the point of putting their own health at risk.
The majority of school spending goes on staff, and so it is inevitable that staffing will be reduced and that this will impact on curricular provision and support services. The idea that the impact of these cuts has not been sufficiently monitored is particularly perplexing. If you have to cut back on music provision, the impact is obvious, you have less music provision.
The government response will be that it is putting an extra "£14 billion" into schools over the next three years. Leaving aside the fact that this is actually an increase of £7.1 billion to the schools’ budget, this is not enough to reverse the cuts that have already taken place.
So, many of the stark findings in the Ofsted report are unlikely to improve over the next three years. And that isn’t the fault of school leaders either.
Geoff Barton is general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders