When you visit Westminster, you expect to see the union jacks, the black cabs and the red double-deckers.
What you don’t expect to see are two thousand school leaders marching on Downing Street to make their concerns over school funding heard – but this was the sight that greeted the bemused tourists brandishing their selfie-sticks in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament this September.
Head teachers are not the marching kind, so when they are on the move, you know that the situation is serious.
Two weeks later, parents and children lobbied MPs to campaign for more funding, and a week after that the Association of Colleges also took to the streets.
Even with all this public pressure, school and college funding is the public service cash crisis that the government just seems intent on refusing to deal with.
But, teachers, school leaders, governors and parents are tired of hearing the disingenuous ‘more money in education than ever before’ line. The government’s robotic repetition of that statement sounds as hollow and unconvincing as the ‘strong and stable’ mantra we heard during the last General Election.
We have a mantra of our own – only new money from the Treasury will solve the school funding crisis.
And of course, we know why it is so essential to find new money to finance our schools and colleges.
Pupil numbers continue to rise. Expectations of what schools and colleges should provide are increasing, as are the costs for these services. We are also having to pay more in National Insurance and pension contributions as well as paying into the Apprenticeship Levy.
In a survey of NAHT members, more than a fifth (21%) said that their budget for 2017/18 was in deficit, a 13-percentage point increase since 2015.
In March this year, a study of Academy budgets showed that 55% were in deficit before the effect of depreciation of assets like buildings, equipment and furniture was considered. This rose to 80% when the accounts were adjusted to include depreciation.
Government data shows that £2.8bn has been cut from school budgets since 2015. That’s equal to £45,400 for primary schools and £185,200 for secondary schools.
Analysis by the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that between 2009-10 and 2017-18, total school spending per pupil in England fell by about 8% in real terms.
And yet, the government continues to dispute this mountain of credible evidence.
They have tried several ways of interpreting the data available to paint a rosier picture than the reality, causing the UK Statistics Authority to rebuke them on four separate occasions this year for a failure to be clear about school funding and standards.
And the impact of cuts is indisputable.
Further NAHT research shows that more than four-fifths (86%) of schools have reduced the hours or numbers of teaching assistants to make their 2017/18 budget balance. This figure was 49% in 2015. More than a third (37%) have had to reduce the number or hours of teaching staff.
Almost two thirds (65%) of respondents said that they strongly agreed that the reductions they have had to make have resulted in a negative impact on the performance of the school.
This means larger class sizes, less attention for pupils, fewer subject choices and a threat to the quality of education in every school. Heads on the march in Westminster said that they tolerate a lot but when money is taken from our children we won’t stand for it.
We would like more honesty from the government about how much they are spending on schools and young people. We’ve written to the Chancellor several times, but he hasn’t replied.
It’s time to remember that mantra: only new money from the Treasury will solve the school funding crisis.
This article was written by Andy Mellor, president at NAHT and was first published on the Schools and Academies Show website on 22 October 2018.
First published 23 October 2018