Is the Governments’ funding announcement good news for schools in England?

Is the Governments’ funding announcement good news for schools in England?On 30 August 2019 the government announced its intention to invest a £14 billion package in education:

“Schools across England are set for a giant cash boost as the Prime Minister announces he will invest over £14 billion in primary and secondary education between now and 2022/23. The funding package for 5-16 schools includes £2.6 billion for 2020/21, £4.8 billion for 21/22, and £7.1 billion for 22/23 compared to 19/20. This will bring the schools budget to £52.2bn in 22/23.”

The announcement continued by stating that this investment would level up funding for schools “giving all young people the same opportunities to succeed – regardless of where they grow up or go to school.”

Any investment by the government in education is ‘good news’. A long term (20 years plus) investment that sat outside of party-political control would be the best news; a short-term investment to be (maybe) introduced post a general election as a reaction to a relatively recently realised teacher recruitment and retention crisis and headteacher demonstrations on underfunding would be not so good good news. The likelihood is that this ‘investment’ in education is the type of good news that actually gives school leaders more cause for concern.

Any additional funding to schools is welcome of course, but it must be contextualised to understand the contribution it makes towards achieving the objective, which in this case is “levelling up funding for schools…giving all young people the same opportunities to succeed”. Therefore, what is the state of school funding prior to 2019/20? Can the £14 billion short term party led package proposed even things out for all schools?

An Analysis by the School Cuts, a coalition of six unions that spearheaded a national campaign for more funding in schools, of the governments proposed investment  in education demonstrated that more than 80% of schools will have less funding per pupil in real terms in 2020 than they did in 2015. They argue that this additional funding is not good news at all, stating that schools in almost all local authorities in England will be underfunded in real terms and schools with the highest levels of deprivation will be worst affected.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) would agree, estimating that school spending in England has fallen by 8% in real terms since 2010. So while the proposal offers a large increase in per pupil funding, in real terms it only takes it back (by 2022-23) to around the same level it was at in 2009-10.  Luke Sibieta, research fellow at IFS, stated in an interview with The Guardian:

“…a 13-year period of no net growth in school spending per pupil, after inflation, still represents a significant squeeze on school budgets when considered in historical terms.”

The government’s headline figure for a £14 billion investment in education is also in doubt; the actual increase in total spending on schools may be half of this, at £7.1 billion. Headteachers need to know what the actual figure is and what the real-term funding equates to in relation to other inflationary costs, particularly workforce costs such as increased pension, national insurance and pay contributions.

Teaching is degree-based profession and deserves recognition of this through the salary offered. The recent teacher pay rise, and related staff pensions and National Insurance increases, hit schools hard. The government only funded 0.75% of the increase in salary costs, expecting schools to fund the rest. This forced school to make cut backs in staffing (particularly teaching assistants), resource investment and CPD to afford the pay rise. School leaders were placed in a challenging position of balancing their books and supporting their staff.

The announcement that came out from the government, shortly after the investment package for education was released, of a possible starting wage of £30k for teachers by 2022 can therefore be seen as bitter sweet. It is entirely appropriate for a degree-based profession to be paid an appropriate salary. This newly imagined salary may help recruit and retain new teachers in teaching, which would support the Department for Education and school leaders want staff who are well paid. However, any teacher pay rise will need to be matched by an associated increase in school funding in addition to the £14 billion investment for the period 2020 – 2023. A starting salary of £30,000 in 2022 would eat up the investment aimed to create equity in school opportunity, forcing additional school cuts.

School cuts increase staff workloads and therefore the increase salary while initially attractive in recruiting teachers, may impact negatively on teacher retention as schools have to deliver more for less. Good news for school funding would be an investment across an extended period of time (and most certainly beyond a government term) that has real-term application and which enables school leaders to undertake clear and focused strategic planning to address issues that range from teacher recruitment and retention to the attainment gap for persistently disadvantaged children. and a curriculum that prepares our children and young people for the 21st century. At Plymouth Marjon University we prepare teachers for a full and long career in teaching. We believe that they deserve to be paid an appropriate salary, but also have working conditions that support their wellbeing so that they can provide an outstanding learning experience for their pupils across a long and satisfying career. Schools deserve the best news in relation to funding and I hope that they hear this soon.

Professor Tanya Ovenden-Hope is Professor of Education at Plymouth Marjon University. Tanya is the lead at Marjon University Cornwall and teaches on our MA Education programme.

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