School Cuts relaunch puts unions on collision-course with DfE again

Updated analysis estimates 92 per cent of mainstream schools will be 'unable to cope' with cost increases in 2024-25

Updated analysis estimates 92 per cent of mainstream schools will be 'unable to cope' with cost increases in 2024-25

The relaunch of the highly-effective School Cuts campaign has put unions on a collision-course with ministers again ahead of next year’s election.

Re-launching their campaign and website, the National Education Union, NAHT and ASCL leaders’ unions and ParentKind warned 92 per cent of mainstream schools will be “unable to cope” with cost increases in 2024-25.

They predict 99 per cent of secondary schools and 91 per cent of primaries will have to “make cuts to survive”.

However, the analysis is based on hypothetical spending and pay decisions not yet made by government.

The unions want the chancellor to commit at next week’s autumn statement to an extra £1.7 billion in funding to allow schools to cover the cost of pay rises of that magnitude. They will lobby MPs as part of the campaign.

In a recent letter to Jeremy Hunt, leaders pointed out school budgets are due to grow by just 1.9 per cent in 2024-25, but school costs will rise 5.8 per cent if pay rises match this year’s settlement.

Paul Whiteman, who leads the NAHT, pointed out prime minister Rishi Sunak had pledged to make education his main funding priority.

“The upcoming autumn statement is the prime minister’s opportunity to honour his promise to his party and to the country. We hope and expect to see him putting the country’s money where his mouth is.”

Analysis assumes another 6.5% pay rise

The analysis assumes teachers will get another 6.5 per cent pay rise next year with no extra funding to cover the costs.

In its methodology document, School Cuts said they “believe it is reasonable to assume it [pay] will increase by the same amount in 2024-25 given the scale of the teacher recruitment crisis”.

But in recent years, government has provided funding to either fully or partially cover larger pay rises.

Luke Sibieta, research fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said although such high pay rises “could turn out to be necessary given difficulties recruiting and retaining both teachers and support staff…I strongly suspect that if the government did agree to such rises, they would provide extra funding to cover the associated costs”.

IFS analysis also actually suggests schools could “probably afford a pay rise of 3 per cent next year based on existing funding”.

The School Cuts campaign was ramped up in the run-up to the 2017 general election, in which education became the third biggest issue for voters, behind only Brexit and health. The Conservatives ended up losing their majority.

A poll after the election suggested 750,000 people changed their vote because of concerns about school funding.

The website was relaunched again last autumn with a call for £2 billion extra funding, which was subsequently awarded at the autumn statement. Now it has been updated with next year’s funding figures.

‘Educational provision and standards are at risk’

Geoff Barton, ASCL’s general secretary, said the School Cuts data was “stark and the conclusion inescapable – educational provision and standards are at risk because of the inadequacy of government funding”.

But Conservative MPs have been highly critical of the School Cuts website.

The website was also criticised in 2019 by the UK Statistics Authority which concluded a claim that 91 per cent of schools were facing funding cuts gave a “misleading impression”.

Daniel Kebede
Daniel Kebede

But when approached by Schools Week to ask if it contested any of the figures presented on the relaunched website, the Department for Education declined to do so.

Instead, its spokesperson pointed out school funding was “rising by £3.5 billion this year compared to 2022-23, reaching the highest level in history, in real terms per pupil, by 2024-25”.

But Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the NEU, said the government “which has insisted for too long on schools doing more with less, has now run out of road”.

“This is an overwhelming case for action on school funding. We need to see substantial new investment in the coming autumn statement.”

In a letter to the prime minister and education secretary Gillian Keegan, Stephen Morales, chief executive of the Institute of School Business Leadership, said professionals have “spent well over two decades trying to plaster over the cracks of funding insufficiency”.

He said current capital investment levels mean it would take 400 years to rebuild every school. He also called for an end to “the reactive and piecemeal approach to funding announcements” which results in pay announcements coming after the budget-setting process in schools has begun.

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