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School funding crisis: “statistics and rhetoric cannot hide the real picture,” says NAHT general secretary

Paul Whiteman 1 website.jpg

Watch the full speech below

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman delivered a powerful speech at the association’s annual conference in Liverpool today (4 May 2018) where he thanked members for making the school funding crisis a mainstream issue.

In his first speech as general secretary, Paul explained that we need to remain “bold” to tackle the funding crisis and “statistics and rhetoric cannot hide the real picture” of a system in financial crisis.

He talked about how it is not a “flight of political fancy,” but our duty to address. To achieve this, he said, we must continue to work with government and arrive at a funding settlement that “matches the common ambition of providing every child with a world-class education”.

Paul stressed that education is an essential public service - one that needs to be “funded at a consistently high level if we are ever going to achieve anything as a nation”.

He described the funding approach for education over the centuries as a “yo-yo” that has been spiralling up and down. This, he said, does not help us to build a system for the future, rather it creates long-term damage. It is, as he simply put it, “a funding argument that’s stuck in the past.”

Despite his optimism that we will get some money in the next budget, Paul voiced the need for “more honesty” from the government about the impact of austerity because cuts year-on-year have not eliminated the deficit.

Paul welcomed the plans announced by education secretary Damian Hinds at conference to overhaul the system of school accountability. The removal of the coasting and floor standards will “do much to address the confusion” felt by school leaders, said Paul. But, he warned, it is important to set the new support standard at "the right level" for the schools that need it most.

He told delegates the new vision for a clearer school system voiced by the education secretary was a direct result of the hard work NAHT does behind the scenes on behalf of school leaders. “When policymakers make good decisions, we say so,” explained Paul. However, he added, “that doesn’t mean we are silent when decisions need to be challenged. Far from it.”

Although he was encouraged by what the education secretary had said to school leaders today, he did not feel that more broadly there was a “shared vision for what the education system should look like.” Paul called on school leaders not to wait for the government to create it, but instead, for them to get started on it right away.  

Paul finished by talking about the pupils in our schools. He shared with delegates the challenges that exist with high needs funding laid out in detail in a new report released by the association today and promised to continue to stand up for the most vulnerable children and young people in our care.

He told delegates that, as leaders, it is our responsibility to speak up for the children we teach. We must, he closed conference saying, be bold, act like leaders and put forward our ideas. “Together we can make a difference,” concluded Paul.

Read his full speech here.

First published 09 May 2018