The last week has not been good for schools worried about money. The Chancellor seems immune to warnings about the state of school funding. The education focus of his budget was the creation of new places in free schools, some of which will be grammar schools if the legislation limiting selection by ability is changed.
He also announced money to cover the travel costs of pupils from disadvantaged homes who might get into grammars and a capital investment pot that is only a fraction of what our crumbling schools actually need.
As I wrote here last month in the Guardian, the funding situation has been muddied, probably conveniently for ministers, by the conflation of two different issues, On the one hand there is a massive budget shortfall caused by government giving schools a “flat cash” settlement over the last few years. This doesn’t take into account rapidly rising costs, in particular national insurance and pension contributions, which effectively mean school budgets are being cut dramatically.
The National Audit Office predicts that schools will need £3billion just to stay even in the rest of this parliament. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests per pupil funding will be cut by 6.5% taking us back in real terms to the level of the mid-2000s while the share of national income spent on schools is back to the levels of the early 1990s.
I have heard it suggested that this means it isn’t a real cut, because we have been so lucky in the intervening years, but the bottom line is that schools still have to adjust fast and that will be painful.
Meanwhile ministers are consulting on a new funding formula for all schools. The reasons for this are set out here. Billed as a way to equalize historic funding inequalities, it is based on a core financial settlement per pupil then topped up for deprivation and other local factors.
Very few people are happy with this plan –without new money in the school system it will inevitably mean redistribution from some of the better-funded authorities to the worst off. So the losers are angry and some of the would be winners feel it doesn’t go far enough, which is probably inevitable if you are simply slicing up a pie that isn’t big enough in a different way.
What will this mean for pupils and parents?
There is a lot of grass roots activity about this issue. Campaigns are springing up all over the country amidst signs that Tory MPS in even the safest shire county seats are getting a bit twitchy.
In West Sussex, where the WorthLess campaign was launched after Christmas, governors are considering going on strike. In East Sussex there is FlatCashEd and Essex heads have launched a campaign called Educ8% to draw attention to the level of cuts their schools face.
Parents elsewhere are now being urged to get involved as heads nationally highlight the inevitable changes that will follow the predicted cuts. There are reports of GCSE and A level subjects being cut, schools closing early, larger classes, staff redundancies, heads being obliged to appoint cheaper, less well-qualified staff and even the threat of four day weeks in some areas.
As Janet Downs wrote here earlier this month, there is also growing evidence that schools in better off areas are asking parents to cough up and make financial contributions to cover their deficits, which will inevitably penalise children in poorer areas whose parents aren't able to do this. It is impossible to see how this situation won’t lead to more inequality and poorer outcomes all round.
Are the funding cuts starting to bite at your school? If so how? You can reply to this post, write a blog yourself, or e-mail us in private here. Help us build up a picture of what is going on around the country in these difficult, unprecedented, times.