The National Education Union will “ramp up” campaigning on school funding and seek to mobilise parents on the campaign trail if there is a general election this year, one of its leaders has said.
Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the NEU, told the union’s annual conference in Liverpool this morning that the School Cuts campaign is “going from strength to strength”.
The campaign, which is run by the unions and includes a popular website which allows the public to calculate how much money their local school or area stands to lose in real-terms cuts, is credited with having helped change around 750,000 votes in the 2017 general election.
Teachers and school leaders were criticised for their role in the campaign two years ago, when education went from being a perennial issue to being the third most discussed on the doorstep. The prominence of education professionals in the campaign led to accusations of political bias.
But speaking this morning, Courtney said school and college funding is an issue “that will not go away”.
“I want to thank everyone who has helped build parental engagement this year,” he said. “No politician can ignore the fact that three quarters of a million people changed their vote in the last general election because of school funding.
“And so, we will want to encourage parental campaigning in the run up to the local elections, and to ramp it even more than that if there is a general election”
The union leader also pointed to recent high-profile interventions by Conservative MPs over school funding. Among those to have questioned the approach of their own party recently are former children’s minister Tim Loughton and former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey.
“Tory MPs afraid either of elections, or more charitably of the real effects these cuts are having, are starting to speak out,” said Courtney. “Even Esther McVey staged a Westminster Hall debate on school funding in her constituency.
“And in another sign of trouble for this government, we are working increasingly closely with the f40 group of local authorities, a cross-party group, but with a large number of conservative run authorities in membership, and we are working well together.”
The latest figures published by the School Cuts campaign show schools have lost £5.4 billion since 2015, despite extra funding to cover teacher pay rises, six unions have warned. At the time, the DfE called the figures “misleading”.
The move by School Cuts to update their analysis came after its statisticians were criticised by the UK Statistics Authority, and after the unions were forced to correct a significant blunder in their figures last year.
In January, the UKSA rebuked School Cuts for using “misleading statistics”. The watchdog took particular issue with the unions’ claim that 91 per cent of schools face funding cuts. The unions said they stood by the claim, and have reissued it today.
And last June, the coalition was forced to admit it had incorrectly claimed that schools would see a real-terms drop in per-pupil funding in 2018-19, after it emerged that £450 million of central school services block funding had not been factored in to its calculations.