The lesson is simple: our schools face a funding crisis

GibbonsCouncillor Andy Gibbons speech to Wandsworth Council, March 2017

In 2015 David Cameron said: “With a Conservative government, the amount of money following your child into the school will not be cut. In Treasury speak, flat cash per pupil.’ So no money to cover the increased costs schools face – but it sounds good – no cuts.

“And as the number of pupils in our schools is going up, that means the amount of money going into our schools will do so too.” Again – sounds goods, but actually it means the amount of money per-pupil remains flat lining while costs rise.

Like everything Cameron ever said and did it was a quick fix, with no regard to the consequences.

Now I’m sure the Tory Councillors opposite will want to play with the figures like Cameron did. They would be advised not to. Funding the future of our nation’s children is too important to play politics with. So what is the truth?

The Government’s own National Audit Office says in its 2016 report ‘The Financial Sustainability of Schools’:

‘The Department of Education’s approach to managing the risks to schools’ financial sustainability cannot be judged to be effective or providing value for money.

The Department for Education estimates that mainstream schools will have to find savings of £3.0 billion (8.0%) by 2019-20 to counteract cumulative cost pressures, such as pay rises and higher employer contributions to national insurance and the teachers’ pension scheme.

The Department’s overall schools budget is protected in real terms but does not provide for funding per pupil to increase in line with inflation.

The sample of schools we spoke to told us that they planned to cut staff costs in a range of ways, including replacing more experienced teachers with younger recruits and relying more on unqualified staff.’

Here is some truth from the Institute of Fiscal Studies:

‘Spending per pupil is expected to fall by 6.5% in real terms between 2015–16 and 2019–20. This will be the first time schools have seen real-terms cuts in spending per pupil since the mid 1990s. Growth was particularly fast from the late 1990s through to the late 2000s [the years of Labour government], with real-terms growth averaging about 5% per year between 1998–99 and 2010–11. Education spending between 2010-16,[the years of Tory Government] has fallen by about 14% in real terms.

In 2014, most schools paid a 14.1% employer contribution rate into the teachers’ pension scheme. In September 2015 this rose to 16.4% following public sector pension reforms, at a national cost of £330m from 2016 onwards. Meanwhile, new rules on national insurance placed an annual cost of 2% on the school staff budgets amounting to £460m nationally, although the effect will vary between schools.

The effects of inflation and unfunded annual pay increases would account for a further £300m of spending in 2016.’

On top of this the government is forcing their apprenticeship levy on schools – another £3,000 to 9,000 for a small primary school, and a business rate rises of up to 45% – about £12,000 in cash terms for a primary school.

The Government now proposes a so-called fairer National Funding Formula – but this won’t do anything to solve the funding crisis – it will make it worse.

And here’s some more truth from London Councils, the body that represents all the London Boroughs, including Wandsworth.

‘The National Funding Formula will remove £19 million of funding from London’s schools.’

The National Funding Formula is only the tip of the iceberg though. London Councils conclude:

‘Taking this into account as well as the increased cost pressures identified by the National Audit Office, London’s schools will need to make savings of £360 million in the first year of the new national funding formula (2018/19) to balance their books. ‘

‘No school will gain enough funding from the NFF to compensate for increased cost pressures due to factors such as inflation, pensions and national insurance. The savings required are equivalent to:

  • 17,142 teaching assistant posts, on an average salary of £21,000.
  • 12,857 qualified teachers, on an average salary of £28,000.

This amounts to cutting 7.5 teaching assistant posts per school or cutting 5.6 qualified teachers posts per school, given that there are 2,297 mainstream schools in London.’

The Tories opposite may try to dismiss the figures provided by the NUT and ATL unions as scaremongering by a pressure group, but this proves how out of touch with the truth they are.

The IFS and London Councils have the same message – schools face a funding crisis. Their government’s own National Audit Office, as I have shown, comes up with the same figure: £3 billion cuts.

Locally, this means a funding shortfall of £15,612,273 for Wandsworth schools. That’s equivalent to loss of 419 teachers borough-wide or a cut of £603 per pupil in Wandsworth.

Faced with this crisis what is this government’s response?

The Department for Education comes out with the line ‘school funding is at its highest ever level, £40bn this year’ – but this is as devious as Cameron’s election promise: pupil numbers have risen to record levels too, increasing costs.

The only response from Hammond and May in the budget was £350m for free schools – possibly grammar schools. This will end up being spent on school places where they are not needed or funding expensive vanity projects.

But it is a drop in the ocean compared to the £3billion funding gap schools face. So this budget was a typical Tory budget – a budget for the few not the many.

Let’s tell our Local MP Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education to face the truth: she needs to come up with something a whole lot more substantial because the education sector is being starved of cash.

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