Jules White is writing on behalf of West Sussex headteachers – primary, secondary and special schools
When the Government recently announced future investment plans for schools and post-16 providers, in the midst of political turmoil and a near certain general election, I was tempted to think about Mrs Merton.
“What first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”, she asked his ‘glamorous assistant’, Debbie McGee.
Anyway, headteachers across West Sussex didn’t mind very much why extra money is set to come into our schools, we were just pleased to receive it. In real terms, £4.3 billion will arrive in schools across England over three years from April 2020. This represents an important step forward and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has stated that it should restore our budgets to those experienced in 2010.
The government should be given credit for this and perhaps it should have made much more of the equally important investment that it has made to cover increases to employers’ National Insurance contributions over the same time period.
During a concerted four- year ‘Worth Less?’ campaign that started in West Sussex, headteachers up and down the country have been ‘relentlessly reasonable’ and non-partisan. It would be inaccurate therefore, not to confirm that the chancellor’s announcement is a very important step in the right direction. A planned march of 5,000 headteachers has been postponed as a gesture of goodwill and recognition.
It is very important though, to assess the announcement forensically. The initial headline figure of £14 billion has, for example, been proven to be entirely misleading and politicians should not use it.
Significant other concerns still remain:
• In real terms, school budgets across England will be static for 13 years up to 2023
• Any new costs, such as salary increases, are not yet accounted for
• In West Sussex, only 60 per cent of schools will gain a per pupil increase to ensure they reach minimum thresholds
• West Sussex schools still lag behind the per pupil funding of many others by 50 to 70 per cent and post-16 funding is still far too low.
These points are firmly supported by entirely independent evidence provided by groups such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies. In West Sussex, we also know that High Needs and SEND funding remains in a critical condition and a number of small schools face challenging futures too.
At a time of too many polarised positions and opinions, headteachers have consistently acted in a balanced and measured way.
If we are to continue to gain the very best funding and support for the children in our schools and the most productive future economy too, it is important to acknowledge recent improvements, but also note that there is still much more to be done.
In West Sussex, we remain extremely concerned that the severe cuts to Local Authority budgets have meant that school services have been placed under even greater strain. Teachers and our support staff are regularly having to cover off duties related to social care, counselling and speech and language. We have neither the expertise or capacity to maintain this. Urgent investment is needed right now.
Headteachers would like to thank everyone who has provided such unstinting support to the ‘Worth Less?’ campaign. This includes politicians of all ‘colours’. The help and determination of parents, and the brilliant SOS groups has been particularly welcome. So too, has the committed coverage of our local press and in particular, the tenacious journalism of Karen Dunn.
We will continue to work together with politicians and all stakeholders to ensure that an important first step marks the start of an ongoing journey of improvement.
Together, we have won a battle but not a war.