Why we’re marching on Westminster for school funding

At the moment schools don’t have enough money. It’s as simple as that.

That’s why NAHT, the school leaders’ union and others like UNISON, NEU and UNITE are heading up to Westminster on Tuesday.

And we won’t be alone. Many school governors, parents, carers and teachers will join us.

The desire to make sure every young person has access to the highest quality education is the mission that unites us all. In order to achieve that, schools have to be funded fully and fairly.

Schools have to be funded fully and fairly

Within 48 hours of our last journey to Westminster, the Secretary of State announced that £1.3bn from the DfE’s budget would be redirected to schools. This proves that sustained and sensible lobbying can work. The extra money is welcome, of course. But this is not new investment.

£400m in April 2018 and another £900m the following year is a long way short of the £2bn the school system needs every year in order just to stand still. Besides which, at the recent Public Accounts Committee hearing, the Permanent Secretary revealed that the DfE had yet to identify how this cash was going to be found. The government really needs to make a long-term commitment to school funding, and make it soon.

The DfE has done its bit. £1.3bn is a large chunk of money. Now it is time for the Treasury to step up. The upcoming budget absolutely must include additional school funding. So that brings us to Westminster and a concerted effort to wake MPs up to the scale of the problem and lobby the Treasury for more investment in education.

Many MPs are still unaware of the new financial pressures that schools are facing. Here are just four:

National insurance and pensions: Increases in the cost of employers’ contributions of over 5.5% in April 2015 have had a big impact on schools.

£600 million of cuts to the Education Services Grant: The ESG was used by local authorities and academies to fund school services, like HR and facilities management. These services are still needed so the cost has been shifted to individual schools and academies, putting further pressure on school budgets.

Pay: The cost of annual pay awards for teaching and support staff, however minimal, has been unfunded in school budgets.

The apprenticeship levy: The levy came into effect in April 2017. Only 1% of employers have to pay this but nearly all maintained schools and most academies will have to pay an extra 0.5% on their payroll costs.

Schools’ costs are going up and up. It’s not difficult to see why they need at least £2bn more a year.  But when you’re talking billions, it’s easy to miss the impact these large sums can have on individual schools or indeed individual children. So let me give you some examples:

One secondary school leader from East Sussex told me that his school’s playing fields are now unsuitable for sport because he can’t afford to get the grass cut regularly enough.  The school has had to start using primary school furniture in order to fit more pupils into fewer classrooms because some areas of the school are not fit to use and there is no money to pay for repairs.

This is heart-breaking stuff

A primary head teacher from Manchester told me she is going to have to think about making all of her Teaching Assistants redundant, other than those that are funded for High Needs children on Educational Healthcare Plans. She also said that 90% of her pupils never hear a bedtime story, never see an adult read for pleasure and have never visited the local library. Cuts mean the school is no longer in a position to make up for some of these disadvantages.

And, a school leader in Carlisle told me how at the end of last year he had to let his caretaker go. As a result, he came in over the summer holidays to repaint the classrooms himself.

This is heart-breaking stuff.

It should not be allowed to happen.

Now that the DfE has recognised the scale of the problem and come up with £1.3bn, I think it makes it very difficult for the Treasury not to do the same. I would be amazed if the Chancellor doesn’t come up with more money for schools in November’s budget.

But there is a risk that he won’t. And it will be children who lose out if that happens.

That is why NAHT will be lobbying in Westminster on Tuesday.

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  1. Former free school head, Mark Lehain, now director of the Parents and Teachers for Excellence, thinks calls for more school funding are ill-timed. Writing in the Telegraph on the day of the march, he said heads should sing a happier tune. But humming ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ won’t make the funding crisis vanish. http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2017/10/sing-a-happy-tune-and-school-funding-woes-will-vanish-says-former-free-school-head