COMMENT: Headteacher from Cowplain warns schools funding is an issue that won't go away

YOU may not have noticed, in all the turmoil of Brexit and the suspension of parliament, that the government recently announced plans to increase spending on education, writes The Cowplain School headteacher Ian Gates.

Monday, 30th September 2019, 10:43 am
Headteacher Ian Gates. Picture: Sarah Standing (180714-4542)

This is interesting as, only six months ago, the government said there wasn’t a funding difficulty in education and were telling us that schools had more money than ever.

Therefore, I am pleased that senior government ministers and the prime minister are recognising the complaints headteachers have made for years.

Certainly the ‘Worthless?’ campaign, which has mobilised school leaders, teachers, and parents to put pressure on those in government to address shortfalls in the education budget, has been very successful in forcing the government to listen and take some action.

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However, the historical and ongoing financial crisis, which has seen some schools ask parents for donations of pens and pencils, has meant extra funding is only replacing a portion of what had previously been cut.

In fact, the Institute of Fiscal Studies recently reported that the proposed additional funds would only return funding levels to those seen in 2009 and effectively result in a ‘13-year real-terms freeze.’

While any funding increase is welcome and considerably better than nothing, one of the problems with school funding is that it isn’t index linked; it does not go up with inflation.

So when government puts more money in, it’s generally less than the amount by which costs are rising.

For many schools, the actual increase will probably be two per cent or three per cent of their budget.

So it probably won’t mean additional teachers, resources or extra staff. It certainly won’t mean, after years of under-funding, that we can plug the gaping hole in special educational needs and disabilities funding and wider support services, while schools will have to continue picking up much of the shortfall in counselling, welfare and day-to-day pupil services.

In addition, can we even be sure that this promise is actually going to be realised?

We obviously have the uncertainty of Brexit and it is unclear whether this government will be in place to deliver on its promise, as the proposed funding would not be in place until next year and not completed until 2022/23.

Talk is cheap, it is immediate action that is required, and so schools need an injection of funds now. In short, we need a long-term plan with proper details rather than a quick fix at a time of extreme political uncertainty.

Therefore, I would urge parents and those who are passionate about maintaining our excellent education system to continue to apply pressure to those in government to act quickly and properly fund our schools.