Fed up with the continual governmental denial of the existence of a school budget crisis, Essex secondary head teachers have this week joined together to launch a campaign to highlight the reality of the situation to MPs and call for the increasing funding gap to be bridged urgently.
The Association of Headteachers in Essex (ASHE) has initiated “Fund The 8%” to explain what declining available budget has already meant in schools and what it will mean if the situation is not reversed. Each head teacher has this week written to their school’s constituency MP to outline the extra costs that have so adversely affected the amount of money available to maintain educational standards in their school and what has already been cut as a consequence. We understand that parents will also receive letters from their head teachers outlining the campaign after half term and inviting them to also write to their MPs.
The ASHE press release explains why heads are taking this action:
“These bastions of respectability have written to every Essex MP today outlining their genuine concern that regardless of Government rhetoric about the National Funding Formula and extra funding the reality is that schools are underfunded by 8%. Even if the NFF is introduced in 2018 Essex schools (as a whole) will still be in the bottom third of the funding levels of all the Local Authorities in England”
The Essex heads join colleagues across the country in highlighting the financial crisis and what it has meant and is likely to mean without action. Heads in the London borough of Sutton are the latest to take action, following high profile campaigns in West Sussex and Surrey.
Local and national press have covered the ASHE campaign.
The TES have also posted an accompanying video of Harlow headteacher Vic Goddard explaining his involvement and the reasons behind it.
While secondary heads have taken the lead here, the cuts will have as great effect on their primary counterparts as forcefully pointed out last month in this blog by a Yorkshire head.
Contained within the blog is evidence of the complacency so far displayed by government MPs when confronted with this issue. Those who wrote to their MPs as part of the recent NUT campaign will be very familiar with the contents of the letter that the primary head received in response to his concerns from his MP.
“After I posted my letter on twitter people from all over the country have let me know that they got exactly the same letter just signed by a different MP depending on where they are. This attitude and the blatant disregard of the issue is disgusting.”
The letter I received is consistent with this and, indeed, promised that the national funding formula (NFF) proposals that were apparently due “later this year” would be the solution to the problem. The NFF was actually outlined the week before the letter was sent. It also contained no reference to the National Audit Office (NAO) report that had been recently published that showed the heads funding concerns were far from baseless.
Schools Week editor Laura McInerney spelt out the difference between government spin and reality in a Guardian article:
“The situation is so dire the National Audit Office has warned that by 2020 schools will be worse funded than at any time since the mid-90s.”
Parents and the wider community would be forgiven for being confused as to what the issue is here as they have been told repeatedly that “the school budget has been protected”. However, to use a favourite DfE phrase, this is “disingenuous” as it does not factor in that this flat sum is now supposed to cover a rising number of children and numerous costs that have been added over the past few years. It also ignores the severe cut in post-16 funds.
For illustration, extra costs have included:
- Increased National Insurance contributions
- Increased pension contributions for all staff
- Mandatory pay rises which, although not by any means generous, are recommended by the central government but not funded.
- Higher utility costs
- Rising teacher recruitment and supply teacher costs, particularly in subjects with shortages.
- Reduction in the Education Services Grant (ESG) in 2016
- Rising cost of, increasingly scarce, mental health support provision.
- Introduction of apprenticeship levy from this year.
- Rising inflation.
So costs have clearly risen against a flat budget. But will, as claimed in our letters, the NFF fix the shortfall? No, because it contains no extra funding, it merely spreads the “protected budget” around differently and takes no account of rising pupil numbers.
The Essex heads have outlined the cuts that they have had to implement already to try to maintain quality education for their pupils. A small sample of these include:
- Teacher, support and administration staff redundancies
- Not replacing staff who leave which leads to either increased class sizes or increasing teacher contact time with associated consequences for staff wellbeing.
- Reduction in curricula choices for pupils at all key stages.
- Reduction in teaching resources and training.
- Reduction in trips supporting the curricula and extra-curricula activities.
- Cutting site maintenance, IT, books etc.
- Increased requests for “voluntary” parental contributions.
The heads conclude by questioning the government’s response so far and requesting specific advice on how to balance their school’s budget while meeting student need and the (ever changing) demands of the DfE and Ofsted. They want to know what has happened to the £384M budget that was announced last year to achieve universal academisation. They also require a justification for the introduction of new Grammar schools or free schools in areas of surplus places against this background.
The “Fund the 8%” campaign is timely and fully justified but is unlikely to succeed without wider community support. Educating Brentwood will follow the campaign and post updates as it develops. The communication to parents will be fully covered here.
Given the drive to make schools competitive since 2010, the co-operation of Essex heads to fight to maintain funds to properly educate and provide opportunities for all of our community’s young people is a brave move. The complacent and dismissive governmental responses so far are not good enough.
The campaign deserves our full support.