Shocking Impact Of Freezing School Funding And Cuts!

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Students marching in London against tuition fees and the privatisation of education
Students marching in London against tuition fees and the privatisation of education

AS the Tory government freezes school funding, a National Union of Teachers (NUT) survey shows the shocking impact of cuts so far.

A survey of NUT representatives in England reveals the shocking effects budget cuts are having on schools and children’s education including: increased class sizes, fewer teachers and support staff, reduced funds for books and resources, and a spike in the use of unqualified teachers.

Three-quarters (74%) of respondents said that their head teacher had already expressed concerns over funding issues. Almost half (47%) said that teaching posts had either already been cut or were expected to be cut in their schools, while over half reported cuts in the classroom related to support staff posts (54%) and an increase or expected increase in class sizes (59%).

The survey also showed 50% of NUT representatives reporting existing or expected cuts in SEN (Special Educational Needs) and EAL (English as an Additional Language) provision, affecting the children and young people who need the most support with their education.

Equally worrying for parents, teachers and pupils are the effects on curriculum, resources and activities: 

• 66% of respondents in secondary schools and 23% in primary schools reported existing or expected cuts in courses and curriculum.

• 67% reported existing or expected cuts in budgets for books, equipment and materials

• 45% thought that teachers were more likely to be paying towards classroom resources than previously

• 21% of all respondents said that funding cuts would lead to fewer activities being available to pupils

• 20% of all respondents said that this would mean parents paying more towards activities than previously.

• 35% thought maintenance budgets had been or would be cut.

This is a dreadful situation which will impact heavily on the quality of children’s education. Today (18 November) the NUT is lobbying MPs by email and in person about the impact of education funding cuts, ahead of next week’s Comprehensive Spending Review announcement. 

The lobby follows the government’s decision to freeze school funding in cash terms per pupil – thereby inflicting a real terms cut in its value of up to 10% because of the impact of inflation, even before higher costs of employer pension and NI contributions averaging 5% of the staff pay bill.

The government’s Spending Review announcement threatens even greater cuts to post-16 funding, following a real-terms cut of around 14% under the Coalition, putting the entire future of the successful sixth form colleges sector at risk.

Sixth form colleges, unlike schools, were not protected in the last Parliament. Labour MP Lucy Powell predicts that up to 40% are vulnerable to closure. Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘The government is failing in its duty to provide children and young people in England with an education that is properly funded and gives all children the start in life they deserve. 

‘Parents and carers will be utterly dismayed to see the impact Government funding policy is having on their children’s education and their future prospects. On top of this, the government is planning a review which will increase funding in some areas of the country simply by taking it from other areas of the country, not by providing the increased funding that some parts of the country sorely need.

‘Government ministers and MPs generally all need to take note of the consequences of the decisions they are taking on education funding. Unless there is a change of direction, the government will be failing this generation of students.

• Meanwhile, the introduction of different systems for funding further and higher education across the UK in recent years has led to dramatic variations in levels of public resource for students, says a report released today (Thursday) by the University and College Union (UCU).

The report demonstrates how different countries’ reactions to the introduction of £9,000 fees in England has led to bizarre funding gaps across the UK. The total public funding for Scottish students studying in England is £5,046 a year, while more than double that amount (£10,928) is spent on Welsh students studying in England. 

The differences are exposed in the report Mind the gap: Comparing public funding in higher and further education authored by funding experts Dr Gavan Conlon and Maike Halterbeck of the London Economics consultancy.

They argue the report highlights ‘large funding gaps across the UK Home Nations but also at different levels in the education spectrum.’ They discovered that because Scottish students do not pay fees to study in Scotland, Scottish universities are funded directly from the public purse, rather than via loans for students’ tuition fees.

Because there are no fees for Scottish students studying in Scotland, very few choose to study outside the country. Those that study in England pay tuition fees with the help of a loan from the Scottish government, while their university receives block grant funding from the English funding council.

By contrast, the Welsh government contributes to the fees of Welsh students through both tuition fee grants and loans. This means Welsh taxpayers must pay much more to help Welsh students studying in other UK countries.

Welsh taxpayers pay a premium of 9% to enable Welsh students to study in England, whereas Scottish taxpayers save 44% when a Scottish student chooses to study in England rather than in Scotland. 

UCU argues that the perverse system means that Wales is paying to encourage a brain drain while Scotland is saving money and keeping the vast majority of students at home. Over a quarter of Welsh students (27%) study outside of Wales, compared to just one in 20 (5%) Scots who study outside of Scotland.

The report combines for the first time a range of different public funding sources including direct government grants to universities and colleges, and net individual grants and loans for students to create an overall average public investment per student per year.

The report’s key findings from the year 2013/14 are:

• The level of public funding per home undergraduate student is highest in Wales (£9,456pa) and Scotland (£9,016pa) with England (£8,870pa) in third place and Northern Ireland a distant last (£7,721pa).

• The proportion of total funding required to fund an undergraduate’s full-time higher education varies significantly by country. In Scotland, approximately 80% of the total cost per student comes from the public purse, compared to 70% in Wales, 68% in Northern Ireland and 63% in England.

• Arising from the different funding systems in place, and different arrangements for the cross-border movements of students, there are widely diverging cross-border payments with English funding agencies contributing £259m a year to support university students studying elsewhere in the UK, Welsh funders contributing £156m for outside Wales, but Scotland spending only £11m.

• The level of public funding per eligible student is significantly lower in further education than its equivalent in higher education.

• Spending on adult apprenticeships (£1,554pa) in England is just 18% of that spent on undergraduates in higher education (£8,870) with public spending on other adult courses (£1,323) standing even lower (at 15% of the higher education rate).

Report author Dr Gavan Conlon said: ‘This is the first time since the latest changes to the English tuition fee system that a comprehensive analysis has been done of levels of public investment in further and higher education.

‘What the study shows is four highly complex national systems within which substantial funding gaps are already emerging, as well as significant differences between the funding of higher and further education.’

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘Every UK politician says that investment in colleges and universities is important, and this report should be required reading for them all. The public funding gaps identified in this report are substantial and will impact both upon the life chances of students and our economy.

‘As we approach another Westminster spending review, I hope that the average levels of public investment benchmarked in this report will concentrate the minds of politicians across the UK and produce a clear commitment in each nation to monitor, and where necessary, close the public funding gaps identified.’