I was one of the 50 Headteachers who met in London on Tuesday 14 November to deliver a letter to Phillip Hammond in advance of the budget, calling for the widely accepted cuts to school funding to be addressed in the Autumn statement. We represented 5000 colleagues from 25 counties across the country.
There was widespread media focus on this event and representation from MPs both at the event as well as associated meetings; I am very pleased to say that our MP, George Hollingbery, met us at Downing Street and I would like to thank him for attending. I noted, amongst the hubbub in Parliament Square, ITV, Channel 4, BBC and Sky television coverage as well as Radio 4 and national newspaper attention ranging from The Guardian to The Financial Times; media outlets do not give this much focus and attention to stories that do not have resonance or relevance.
This campaign has gathered momentum with parents and politicians from all parties. As Headteachers we have been clear throughout to be politically neutral and always ‘relentlessly reasonable’. The profession knows that we have burdened real terms cuts to funding since 2010; governors have been party to the difficult decisions made every year on staffing and resourcing and increasingly our parents and students understand the constraints caused by financial pressures that all schools are facing.
A consistent message from the government is based around some central beliefs.
- The new funding formula for schools has finally tackled the “iniquitous decades” of postcode lottery in school funding across England.
- School funding is at a record high.
- Per pupil funding is protected.
There are many articles, papers and interviews detailing exactly why these beliefs do not stand up to scrutiny at the chalk face and I do not know a Headteacher who is not losing sleep about the choices we face in the light of continued rising costs. It is particularly stark when we also know the National Audit Office states that during 2011-16 there has been a net loss of 11,000 teachers.
There are some simple, irrefutable factors in the crisis facing schools:
- The Institute for Fiscal Studies has confirmed that, even after the introduction of the new National Funding Formula, in real terms, the overall budget for school funding will have been slashed by 4.6% (£1.7 billion) during 2015-2020.
- Unfortunately, the £1.3 billion promised by the government is not extra “new money”, but moved within the Department of Education to offset the original cuts - from £3 billion to £1.7 billion.
- Cost pressures in areas such as National Insurance and pensions are rising. A recent 1% salary increase for teachers, which they more than deserve, was entirely unfunded. Inflation has now reached 3%.
Fundamentally, the postcode lottery still exists. Put simply, we receive far less money per pupil in Hampshire compared to pretty much all other counties, even those with similar socio-economic communities to ours. It is extraordinary that some English secondary schools will receive 60% less funding than others of the same size
Among 50 Heads from different parts of the country there was unanimous agreement, nobody wants to see cuts to education that will affect the life chances of the young people in our schools.
At Cowplain, we have always managed our budgets well and have managed to improve the school whilst cutting costs where we could. We are not one of the third of schools with a deficit budget. However, operating within these strict financial constraints is becoming more and more difficult. Therefore, I will continue to support the campaign to ensure better funding for our children and trust that I can count on your support to help secure the best outcomes possible for Cowplain and other schools.