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School leaders demand ‘more ambitious’ education funding package

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary

On Wednesday 8 September, school leaders met with MPs across the political spectrum to demand greater levels of additional funding for education.

At an event in Westminster, school leaders shared direct examples of the ways they are being forced to reduce support for pupils because of a lack of proper investment stretching back more than a decade.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, which represents leaders in the majority of schools, said:

“The government’s failure to invest in schools is harming the chances of young people. Every area of public services requires additional government money to cope with the impact of the pandemic and to guarantee a successful recovery. The education sector is no different, but our research shows that almost a third of school leaders are being forced to make cuts in 2020/21.”

Also speaking at the event was NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted, who said:

“The forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review will be a test of the Prime Minister’s rhetoric earlier this year about education recovery being ‘the biggest priority’ for his Government. To date Ministers have only allocated a small fraction of the £15 billion judged to be needed by the Government’s former education recovery tzar to repair the damage done to children and young people by the pandemic. If the Government is serious about making sure no child is left behind they will show far more urgency and ambition to support and resource schools with their efforts to deliver education recovery.”

These remarks were backed up by the real life testimonies of school leaders:

Helen Spearing, head teacher of a primary school in Staffordshire, said: 

“We have to restrict the number of school trips because we can’t subsidise them if parents can’t afford to contribute. We have had to make the difficult decision to go through a process to change TA salaries to term time only. 

Gavin MacGregor, head teacher of a primary school in London, said:

“We have had to cut back on our well-being and mental health support by not renewing our Place2Be counselling service. We have also had 9 members of support staff leave and have only replaced 2.”

Ruhaina Alford a school leader in Devon said:

“The funding crisis results in a Hobson’s choice for heads: which of the most essential resources will children have and which will they have to do without? You would expect an essential like reading books to be provided by the school. But no – to afford these, parents and the local community have to constantly fundraise. So, although parents are sending their children to a state maintained school, they are still footing the bill. Is this fair?”

The Westminster event took place as NAHT published its latest report into school finances across England.

The report found that:

  • One in four (26 per cent) school leaders predict a deficit budget in 2021/22 based on current funding levels.
  • Almost all school leaders (95 per cent) reported that top-up funding for pupils with education, health and care (EHC) plans was insufficient.
  • As a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic, school leaders reported average additional costs (such as enhanced cleaning and safety measures) of £24,571.
    Schools also reported average lost income (for example, rental or lettings of facilities) of £21,867.

NAHT’s findings come as the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported that school spending per pupil in England fell by 9% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2019-20, which is the largest cut in over 40 years. Almost three-quarters (73%) of schools still have lower per pupil funding in real terms than they did in 2015. Current ‘recovery’ spending in England amounts to around £310 per child according to the Education Policy Institute compared to £1800 in the USA and £2100 in the Netherlands.

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