“Ministers can no longer ignore protests over the school funding crisis”

” … The Institute for Fiscal Studies warns that by 2020 funding per pupil will have been cut in real terms by 6.5% for schools, and 16-18 education will be at a similar level in real terms to that 30 years ago.

Meanwhile, the costs of employing staff – usually something like 80% of the outgoings of a school or college – are growing because of increases in employer contributions to national insurance and pensions, plus pay increases for which there has been no additional funding from government.

The government is going to find that ignoring this issue is not going to make it go away as voices of protest become louder. Suddenly places that rarely made the headlines – east Cheshire, West Sussex – are in the news, with headteachers, governors and, increasingly, parents are all warning children’s education will be damaged unless funding is found.

The budget could have addressed the educational needs of the many over the few. Instead, what we got was an announcement about building new free schools at a time when schools are having to make £3bn of savings.

Cuts could mean schools close early two days a week, say teachers
There is already a need for some 284,000 new secondary places by 2020. It is therefore essential that any new schools are built in areas where places are needed, rather than creating deliberate surpluses, as has often been the case with free schools. Unless new schools directly help communities that lack school places, then parents and other taxpayers are going to see this as a shocking waste of public money. …

… As I know from my 15 years as a headteacher, always working with specialist business managers, saving, say, £150,000 in your budget in a year, cannot be achieved by deferring new textbooks or leaving the maths block unpainted.

Instead schools will have to increase class sizes in order to maximise the number of students being taught by the minimum number of teachers. They will limit courses at GCSE and sixth-form level to reduce the number of teachers needed. They will even have to contemplate cutting staff time for preparation, marking and planning.

Cuts, cuts, cuts. Headteachers tell of school system ‘that could implode’
This growing crisis comes on the watch of a prime minister and secretary of state for education who talk a lot about social mobility and have identified education as the engine room of national progress. Yet it is disadvantaged students and schools in fragile communities that are likely to be hardest hit by funding reductions that this budget has not addressed.

These are the schools where parent teacher associations are least likely to be able to contribute to funds, where budgets are already being disproportionately used to bring in expensive supply staff from agencies, where decisions not to upgrade facilities simply intensify the social gap between the haves and have-nots.

Many school leaders already serve as the social glue that helps hold together such communities. Now those leaders are saying that on behalf of the children, parents and governors more funding must be found – for all our schools, not just for pet projects.

This is a government that speaks loftily of social justice. In the budget it had one parliament-defining opportunity to put its money where its mouth is. Instead we witnessed the triumph of dogma over evidence.”

(Geoff Barton is headteacher of King Edward VI school, Bury St Edmunds. He was elected general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders in February 2017)


One thought on ““Ministers can no longer ignore protests over the school funding crisis”

  1. So it is not just me who believes that the Conservative Government is pursuing a “market forces” dogma despite a mass of evidence that it has terrible consequences when applied to public services.

    So this week we have ministers complaining that privatised electricity companies are ripping off customers. Well, the reason that they can do this is because of the Tory “market forces” dogma which drove their privatisation – but what we are now seeing are market forces at work, so why should the Conservative ministers be surprised?

    The reality is that “market forces” work only when two criteria are met:

    1. SUPPLY EXCEEDS DEMAND – If Demand exceeds Supply then companies just put up prices in order to reduce demand, and make excessive profits.

    Before the electricity companies were privatised, the country had electricity generating capacity significantly in excess of demand – and we exported electricity. This was because our generating capacity was determined on a strategic basis by the government to e.g. cover peaks in demand (like the famous kettle boiling during the mid-Coronation Street advertising breaks).

    But after privatisation, the electricity companies stopped investing nearly as much in new generation plant, and when the government decided we should close the coal-fired plants because of our commitments to reducing greenhouse-gasses there were no replacements ready.

    This is not just short-sightedness on the part of electricity companies – this is their strategic vision for maximising long-term profits. Not only can they increase profits now by squeezing the most out of their existing investments and not spending money on new investments – but they also know that if they allow generating capacity to drop so that demand exceeds supply, then they can raise prices rapidly and reap huge profits.

    The “market forces” dogma then says that high prices encourage new entrants into the market because of the big profits available, but the costs and barriers to entry into the electricity markets are very high, and this isn’t happening.

    Which is why the government is forcing through the building of new nuclear power plants despite the massive costs of doing so.

    And high barriers to new entrants into public sector “markets” are very common.

    In other words, not only do market forces not work in the public sector, they actually operate against the public interest.

    2. FAILURE – for “market forces” to operate there also have to be consequences for failure i.e. going bust.

    That can, of course, happen in the electricity markets without consequences – see GB Energy as a recent example – but you can’t let that happen to e.g. hospitals because it equates to people dying and you can’t let that happen to education because children do not recover from poor education. And of course if they go bust you have a political crisis. So privatised hospitals and privatised schools get bailed out by the government (like the banks were to big to be allowed to fail).


    However, IMO that is NOT the worst of it. What is worse is…

    EQUALITY AND FAIRNESS – I think we all expect a uniformity of social care, health care and education across England.

    We don’t expect different areas getting differing levels of health care or education. But that is what a fragmented privatised public sector will be like. We have already seen it in social care over the past couple of years. We are seeing it happening now in health services and most recently starting to happen in education.

    But the fragmentation that is inevitable from privatisation is only part of the issue. We expect government to operate in a fair and transparent way. We also don’t expect the Tory safe-seats and Labour heartlands to be starved of funds whilst marginal seats, ministers’ seats, rebellious councils and the “friends” get preferential treatment through secret and dodgy deals.



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