Schools are being hit by governmental “paralysis”, with a crucial announcement about funding understood to be on hold and further delays to teacher pay rises expected as ministers and officials divert their attention to the consequences of the Brexit vote.
A series of other policies, including initial teacher training reform, academy chain accountability and Year 7 resits are also expected to be held up – or dropped altogether.
Unions and sources close to government say that the introduction of a national “fairer” school funding formula – seen as a lifeline for schools facing major budget cuts – is likely to be called off this year, prompting warnings of teacher redundancies and bigger class sizes.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, said school leaders were confronted by a funding situation “more uncertain than it’s ever been”.
Meanwhile the long overdue School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) report setting out the basis for the next set of teacher pay rises – supposed to be in September’s payslips – will face further delays after the leave vote.
Teaching unions already feared members would have to wait until beyond Christmas for salary boosts. Last year’s STRB report was published in March, with many teachers waiting until at least November for pay rises.
Kevin Courtney, NUT acting general secretary, said the wait was “completely unacceptable”.
“It has never been this late,” he told TES. “Many younger teachers live on the edge of their overdrafts on a monthly basis. It’s terrible they don’t know when their pay rises will be.”
The unexpected vote for Brexit last Thursday, and its swiftly developing aftermath, have torn up all existing political priorities.
As TES went to press, education secretary Nicky Morgan was focusing on a potential bid to become the next Conservative leader. Meanwhile her Labour shadow, Pat Glass, resigned on Wednesday after just two days in the role.
The crisis is also likely to affect the capacity of Department for Education civil servants to implement policies. As one of the departments least directly affected by Brexit, the DfE is also among the most vulnerable to having its officials plundered to work out the complicated process of leaving the EU.
TES understands that one of the DfE’s most senior officials – Shona Dunn, director general for education standards – has already started work in a new Brexit team.
Sources say the department could go further, doing the “bare minimum to keep the lights on” for the next six to 12 months, as other officials are siphoned off.
The Brexit vote has also raised major concerns about the recruitment of teachers from overseas. Derek Boyle, teacher training coordinator at the Bromley Schools’ Collegiate, a provider of school-centred initial teacher training (Scitt), said that he needed certainty about funding for EU teacher trainees by October.
“What if we want to train a French national as an MFL teacher?” he added. “And what’s the point if they are not allowed to work?”
No movement without a PM
In the days before the referendum, DfE officials were insisting that key policies such as the national school funding formula would carry on whatever the result. But the chaos that has developed since Friday’s vote means that many doubt this will hold.
One source, who has worked closely with ministers, told TES: “Everything is paralysed until we get a new prime minister. It’s not great, because there’s lots of stuff that needs to happen.” But they added that schools might enjoy being “left alone for a bit” by politicians.
Jonathan Simons, head of education at thinktank Policy Exchange, also predicted minimal DfE activity.
“If you’re ruthless, there’s almost nothing you can’t delay. That frees people to [work on] Brexit,” said. “I don’t think there’s anything that can’t fundamentally carry on for a year [without government intervention], though it does risk just postponing problems, and making them even harder to fix when they are eventually addressed.”
Mr Simons said that he could not see how the national funding formula could be introduced in 2017 as previously announced. Instead, he expected it to be launched in 2018.
Bill Marshall, head of Humphrey Davy school in Penzance, said that delay “could mean increased class sizes”, as well as cuts to teaching and support staff.
Stephen Morales, chief executive of the National Association of School Business Management, said that the hold-up would damage children’s “life chances”.
But Mr Hobby warned of the dangers of rushing change through once the machinery of government began to move, and said any quick revisions to the school teachers’ pay and conditions document would be a “serious concern”.
“If they rush then we could get some very serious errors,” he said.
A DfE spokesperson said: “Business continues as normal. We will provide further detail on forthcoming announcements in due course.”
Read more from Jonathan Simons on the implications of Brexit for schools, on page 11