National funding formula ‘worth a little pain now’

4 Oct 17

School leaders are feeling a squeeze on budgets because many have never had to properly ration their resources until now.

Mark Lehain, director of campaign group Parents and Teachers for Excellence, made this assertion in a fringe event at the Tory party conference on Tuesday.

The former head of the Bedford Free School said: “I’m not disputing that things got tighter in recent years but we cannot ignore the fact we have had nearly 20 years of real terms growth, year on year.”

According to Lehain the education sector is only feeling the pinch now because up until recently “we’ve never had it so good”.

He said: “We’ve got an entire generation of school leaders who have never had to make tough financial decisions.

“We make tough decisions everyday has heads, half of them we can never talk about because of child confidentiality and child protection or HR stuff.

“But let’s face it - we have never had to make tough financial decisions because it was getting easier.”

Lehain said during Gordon Brown’s tenure as prime minister, schools would look forward to budgets because every April Labour would provide more money.

He argued the sector was going from growth in the good times but was now experiencing a standstill as it transitioned with the national funding formula, which he said was like a “promised land”.

“I think it is worth facing a little bit of pain now, for the big prize of the national funding formula,” he said.

Lehain, a member of the Tory party, also stressed the fact that other areas of the public sector and the private sector had to tighten its belts in recent years and schools had to do the same.

These points were disputed by Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, which was hosting the fringe event.

Courtney said the facts were that 88% of schools in England were facing a real-terms cut in per pupil funding between 2015 and 2019.

On average primary schools would lose £52,000 in real terms over that period and for secondary school it is a £178,000 cut, according to Courtney.

The union leader said this was having real impact on the front line of teaching with schools increasing class sizes, letting teaching assistants go and cancelling certain subjects altogether.

Speaking to attendees he said: “I think it is important your party stop saying some things and ministers stop saying some things, because all we hear from ministers is things to the tune of ‘it’s the biggest school budget we have ever had’, ‘there are more teachers than before’, ‘we are giving schools a cash increase every year’.”

He argued that these things “don’t wash” because while those things are true, increasing number of pupils and increasing costs on schools means there are not enough teachers going around and school budgets are seeing real-terms cuts.

Courtney pointed out that he was in no way against the national funding formula, he agreed with it in principle but warned that there wasn’t enough money in the pot and that the current proposals didn’t do enough to differentiate between the needs of different schools.

He highlighted that most OECD nations spent around 6% of GDP on education whereas the UK has fallen to around 4%.

"That is the same level of GDP spent on education in schools as in the 1950s," he claimed.

Did you enjoy this article?