What impact is austerity having on your school?
I was reassured to read, that although by chance I find myself in a London “borough of excellence”, Barnet Council is also starting to feel the financial pressures imposed by the Department for Education. Here are the highlights communicated from my son’s primary school.
“On 23 November 2018, headteacher representatives met with Nick Gibb, Minister of State for School Standards, and Mike Freer, MP for Finchley and Golders Green. As a group, we are now sharing this with you and hope that you will be able to support our endeavours in raising awareness of our concerns at every possible opportunity by contacting government and local council officials. Schools and governors alike are determined that quality, inclusive provision should be protected and would like to hear from you if you feel you can help us in that endeavour.”
I hope every school is communicating the same issues with their parents.
A World-Class Education?
You may have heard a government minister cite the above buzz phrase, “a world-class education” in various speeches. My question is, how can we achieve this on a budget? A rise in pupil numbers demands even more cash, and it’s easy to say “we are spending more”, but this simply isn’t happening in real terms per pupil.
The evidence is clear.
Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported “between 2009-10 and 2017-18, total school spending per pupil in England fell by about 8% in real terms, which compares with about 5% in Wales. The greater cuts in England are driven by a combination of a greater fall in spending by local authorities and school sixth form spending alongside faster growth in pupil numbers.”
A Serious Threat To Pupil Provision
Barnet Council schools say: We are concerned that current levels of funding are now seriously threatening this high-quality provision. Critics could easily argue that Barnet Council has considerable verified data to suggest that Barnet is already delivering a world-class education to pupils, but increasing pressure on budgets with rising costs of services – which are not met by current and anticipated levels of income – means that there is a real risk that these standards will not be maintained.
Barnet Council Context
A number of contextual problems present Barnet schools with particular challenges:
- The extremely high cost of living makes it very difficult to attract staff to an area where they are not able to afford accommodation.
- This is compounded by proximity to other boroughs where the cost of living is lower (eg Hertfordshire) or where Inner London weighting affords higher salaries (eg Camden or Haringey).
- Approximately 16% of children under five live in the 30% most deprived areas.
- 19% of children under five (5,000 children) live in low-income families, earning less than 60% of the median income.
- Barnet is an inclusive authority, given that 57% of pupils (997 of a total of 1751 in 2014) with a statement of Special Educational Needs or Educational Health Care Plan maintained by the council are placed in mainstream settings. A level which is significantly higher than statistical neighbours and other Outer London Boroughs, where larger proportions attend specialist provision.
But this isn’t about tit-for-tat, this is happening all over England.
Less Funding, More Difficult Decisions
Schools in all local authorities have been tackling the ongoing financial challenges of reduced budgets and increased financial expenditure. If per child funding is continuing to decrease while costs increase, the following decisions are likely being made in many local authorities across England.
- Staffing reduction of teaching and non-teaching posts
- Curriculum reduction across all key stages
- Reduced curriculum, teaching and learning innovation
- Non-specialist teaching and split classes
- Increase in class sizes or merging of classes and an increased contact time for teachers
- Increased teacher workload = more teachers leaving
- Increase in teaching allocation of headteachers and deputy headteachers
- Reduction in interventions to support students who start below expected standard, fall behind, are identified as vulnerable, have SEN or complex behavioural needs.
- Reduction of specialist support staff such as Teaching Assistants, Counsellors and Learning Mentors
- Inability to fund alternative provision and specialist support for vulnerable students, those with SEN or at risk of exclusion
- Inadequate funding for mental health and emotional well-being of students
- Not replacing ICT equipment
- Reducing or stopping budget allocation for the school library
- Reduction in spending on-premises maintenance and increasing health and safety concerns
- Increases in pupil admission numbers (PAN)
- Reduction in departmental budgets, staff training and school leadership teams.
- Reduction of extra-curricular and/or enrichment programmes and staff used for supervision of breaks and lunch times
- Leadership time focused on fundraising
- Increased requests to seek additional funding from parents
- No financial reserves to meet emergency needs.
Last month, over 10,000 people signed this petition. The Department for Education responded: “There is more money going into our schools than ever before… we recognise the budgeting challenges schools face and that we are asking them to do more… We spend as much per pupil on state school education as any major economy in the world, apart from America.