NUT banners on a TUC demonstration against Tory government cuts
NUT banners on a TUC demonstration against Tory government cuts

STATE schools in England will have to find £3bn in ‘savings’ (ie savage cuts and sackings) by 2019-20, the public spending watchdog has said.

Schools face 8% budget cuts under the Tories and about 60% of secondary schools already have deficits, a funding analysis from the National Audit Office (NAO) finds. On Wednesday the Department for Education launched a new funding formula, which will see 10,000 schools gaining money and similar numbers losing.

Education Secretary Justine Greening revealed how the different funding rules will be applied – with reduced budgets for schools in inner London. The government claims its new national funding formula is designed to stop inequalities which see schools in different parts of the country, with similar intakes, receive different levels of per-pupil budget.

It will mean reallocations of funding, but the NAO report highlights shortages in the overall budget. It says that schools are not prepared for the ‘scale and pace’ of the cuts facing them. Five head teachers’ and teachers’ unions have issued a joint statement saying schools face the ‘biggest real-terms cuts in a generation’.

Malcolm Trobe, head of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘We are deeply concerned that the life chances of young people are being put at risk by the government’s under-funding of education.’

Ann Lyons, headteacher at St John Fisher Catholic Primary School in north west London, said that the school is already struggling to maintain services and is cutting activities. She said: ‘We are finding that we can’t increase the staffing in line with the pupil numbers. So class sizes have got to a real maximum.

‘We’ve been relatively well protected but we are now at the stage we’re at breaking point and the only way some schools are going to manage this significant cut in real terms is through staff cuts – and that’s going to add to workload.’

The NAO report says funding is not keeping pace with increased pupil numbers and rising costs of national insurance and pension contributions – and the budget gap will have reached £3bn by the end of the decade.

The overall budget is protected against inflation, but the NAO report says that rising numbers of pupils will mean schools will face cuts in real-terms per-pupil income. The report says that about 60% of secondary schools are in deficit, and forecasts shortfalls averaging £326,000 by 2020.

There is also a warning that the Education Funding Agency, part of the Department for Education, is not intervening rapidly enough when there are financial concerns about schools. School leaders have warned of deepening financial problems – with head teachers in West Sussex threatening that this could mean cutting school hours.

Almost every state school head in the local authority had written to the Prime Minister May in the autumn warning of the ‘dire financial position’. ‘Schools are struggling to function adequately on a day-to-day basis, and, in addition, we are severely hampered in our ability to recruit and retain staff, work with reasonable teacher-pupil ratios and to buy basic equipment,’ said the letter from more than 250 heads.

A joint statement from heads’ and teachers’ unions – ASCL, NAHT, NUT, ATL and Voice – says that schools ‘urgently need additional investment’. ‘We are already seeing job losses, increased class sizes and cuts to courses in our schools and colleges,’ it says. Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: ‘This is the reality: the Tories are cutting school budgets. All we have seen from this government is six years of turmoil in our schools and nothing to show for it.’

Commenting on the Education Secretary’s announcement of a consultation on the school funding system in England, Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘Far from being the levelling up that some councils and heads have demanded, this is a levelling down.

‘Even the schools currently worst funded will see real terms cuts in this Parliament.

‘The government’s proposed changes to the school funding system do not begin to address the key issue for schools, which is the government’s imposition of the biggest real-terms cuts in a generation.

‘Funding cannot be “fair” if it is not sufficient. Even those schools gaining under the new system are likely to see those gains more than offset by the real cuts to school funding overall. All the government can offer is a programme of real terms cuts, unevenly distributed – creating new problems in some areas and failing to tackle existing problems in the remaining areas.  Refusing to address the problems caused by its programme of real-terms cuts means the government refuses to engage in the proper and objective discussion we need on how to fund schools to meet their real needs.

‘The NUT has told the government that it must support any new funding formula with enough extra money to ensure real-terms increases for schools, so that much needed funding increases for schools in some areas are not paid for by cuts for schools in other areas.

‘No school can afford to lose funding without it affecting the life chances of children.  That argument has been ignored. On its current direction of travel, the government will cause lasting damage to our children’s futures. The lack of significant new funding is jeopardising the chances of a good education for all. Government ministers should remember that children only have one chance to attend school.

‘The government’s funding policy will take money away from the vast majority of schools. Every school faces the effects of the government’s failure to increase funding per pupil in line with inflation and its decision to pile new costs on schools through higher national insurance and pension contributions.

‘The NUT predicts that in real terms, 90% or more of schools will be worse off even after this funding “reform”, including many of the most deprived areas. The National Audit Office has today reported that government funding policy will force schools to make cuts of £3.0 billion by 2020 – equating to an 8.0% real-terms cut in per-pupil funding – but that the DfE cannot be sure that schools can achieve such savings and has no idea of the actual cost of running schools in order to achieve the desired educational outcomes.

‘Today’s decision to redistribute funding without putting in the extra money needed to protect some schools against even bigger cuts shows that the government doesn’t really care about the impact of its funding policy either.’

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said: ‘The delay in publishing the consultation on the national funding formula for schools indicates that even the government recognises the scale of the challenge involved in creating a funding formula which enables schools to secure the educational entitlements of all children and young people.

‘The devil will be in the detail of the government’s proposals for reform to the school funding system, and it will be important that the details are considered carefully. A key challenge the government faces in securing a fair funding system is a legacy of the last six years of misguided economic austerity which has been to the detriment of schools and pupils.

‘The government not only needs to ensure that it is able to demonstrate that its funding reform proposals are fit for purpose, but it also needs to secure confidence from schools, teachers and the public that these are the right proposals in the circumstances.

‘After years of austerity which have increased pressures on schools, the funding reforms must be managed in a way that does not add to the existing pressures on schools or result in ‘knee-jerk’ responses that increase the burdens placed on teachers. ‘A key test for the government’s funding proposals is whether they will support schools in tackling the profound inequalities of access to education.

‘A real danger of the government’s National Funding Formula proposals is that they will reduce or remove vital support for pupils from poorer backgrounds and those from families which are just about managing.The NASUWT will judge the National Funding Formula on its contribution to building a fairer and more just country that works for everyone.’

‘Children will pay the inevitable price when an estimated £3 billion is slashed from school budgets,’ said the GMB. Sharon Wilde, GMB National Schools Organiser, said: ‘Our education system needs real investment for all schools. The government has the wrong strategy yet again – this robbing Peter to pay Paul policy does not work in education and it is our children who will suffer.

‘GMB support staff, our hidden professionals in schools, are already struggling to juggle the demands that are asked of them and face further pressure if budgets are squeezed. This government, and this education secretary, have repeatedly demonstrated that, where education is concerned, they know the price of everything and the value of nothing.’