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School leaders fear Autumn Statement will push school budgets beyond breaking point

School leaders’ union NAHT has today written an open letter to the Chancellor, Philip Hammond to ask for assurances on government spending on education.

In the letter, NAHT ask for four clear assurances from Mr Hammond, including that the proposed national funding formula includes an uplift in spending on schools and that teacher pay keeps pace with other professions. The letter also sets out the need to better support the poorest pupils, and ensure children’s mental health services get the funding they need.

NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby says: “this is a basic issue of fairness in education. The long promised national funding formula for schools will only work if there is sufficient money in the system to start with. We fear that no more money will be announced.”

Early indications from NAHT’s latest annual survey on school budgets are expected to show that more and more schools are struggling to balance their books. Last year 63 per cent of school leaders were making ‘significant’ cuts or dipping into reserves to stave off deficits. The 2016 survey, due out in December, suggests the figure could have risen to 71 per cent.

Mr Hobby says: “It’s getting more expensive to run schools and the government needs to recognise this, including meeting the shortfalls in funding for sixth forms, early years and for services previously provided by local authorities. Many school budgets are now beyond breaking point. The Chancellor needs to increase education spending or the quality of education on offer in many schools will begin to suffer.”


Note to editors:

Dear Chancellor,

I am writing to you today to urge you to put fairness at the heart of the Autumn Statement by giving schools the resources they need to deliver for their pupils.

We know school budgets are beyond breaking point. NAHT is currently surveying school leaders, and interim results show that 69% of school leaders believe that their deficits will be untenable by 2020. In order to balance budgets, school leaders have been reducing investment in equipment (81%), using up reserves (68%), reducing hours of teaching assistants (66%) and reducing investment in training (66%). None of these are sustainable over the long term, and children’s education will suffer.

NAHT would like to see:

  • Fair funding: a funding formula that is fair and sufficient, from nurseries to sixth forms
  • Fair pay: teachers’ pay that keeps up with other professions
  • Fair society: a system that guarantees all children eligible for free school meals receive them
  • Fair support: adequately funded children’s mental health services for all children

 The government is rightly addressing the inequities in the funding formula. However, we must also see enough money in the system, not just fairness in the way it is shared out. Almost nine out of ten school leaders are telling us that a rise in national insurance employer contributions and pension contributions are key reasons behind financial pressures in their school. It cannot be right that the government is undermining the money it gives by asking for increasing amounts back in return. Protecting budgets at a time of rising costs is no protection at all.

Teachers pay is also not keeping up with other professions. The government’s own School Teachers' Review Body (STRB) this year recommended that the teaching profession needs an increase ‘significantly higher’ than 1% to address recruitment problems. Unless the government end their policy of real terms pay cuts, the profession will struggle to recruit and retain teachers.

We also need to ensure that the funding to help the poorest pupils overcome their disadvantage gets to them. A simple change would be to ensure that children are automatically enrolled to receive free school meals and the eligibility to pupil premium support that comes with this registration. Currently the onus is on families to apply for this, and many do not. By allowing councils to share the benefit data they hold, eligible children could automatically receive free school meals, and schools the attached pupil premium to help support them. This is a simple change that could have a huge impact on children.

We know that schools often step in when other public services are cut. In our survey 78% of school leaders said that their school directly funds support for children with mental health issues. Even when faced with budget pressures, schools will try and do the right thing for their pupils, but this is not sustainable over the long term.

Spending on education should be seen as an investment, not a cost. I hope you will use the Autumn Statement to deliver a better deal for all pupils.

Yours sincerely, 

Russell Hobby

First published 05 January 2018