Challenging your parliamentary candidates to fund our children’s education properly

Unless we make it clear to the political parties standing for election that we care strongly about the education of our children, our schools will be driven further into a financial crisis that is already seeing falls in the number of teachers, increases in class sizes, inadequate teaching equipment, withdrawal of extra-curricular activities, and in some cases schools asking parents to make direct financial contributions to the education of their children in state schools.

Here’s how you can hold the next government to account to reverse the crisis by funding schools properly.

The Conservative government that has just left office was elected on a manifesto commitment to protect the funding per child of our education system:

“The amount of money following your child into school will be protected. As the number of pupils increases, so will the amount of money in our schools. On current pupil number forecasts, there will be a real-terms increase in the schools budget in the next Parliament.”

That commitment has not been met. The education budget has risen in real terms, but not enough to match the larger increase in the number of pupils in school.

The National Audit Office report of December 2016 states that:

“The Department’s overall schools budget is protected in real terms but does not provide for funding per pupil to increase in line with inflation. Funding per pupil will, on average, rise only from £5,447 in 2015-16 to £5,519 in 2019-20, a real-terms reduction once inflation is taken into account”.

This was confirmed by Jonathan Slater, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education who told the Public Accounts Committee in January 2017 that “the Government has protected the funding of schools overall in real terms, but not per pupil”.

You can use the following letter to write to or e-mail your parliamentary candidates to make clear that you understand this issue and are prepared to vote based on it. The more of us who do so, the more likely we are to have the schools that educate our children properly paid for.

(Note: this material is adapted from the wonderful Fair Funding for all Schools campaign – find out how to take part here: http://www.fairfundingforallschools.org/)

{insert your name}

{insert your address}

{insert your postcode}

 

{insert candidate name}

{insert candidate address}

{insert date} 2017

Dear {insert candidate name}

Fair Funding for All Schools

I am writing as a resident of the constituency in which you are standing for election to express my concerns about the funding situation facing schools in my local area, including {insert school name} which my {child/children} {attends/attend}.

The previous Conservative government was elected on the following manifesto commitment:

“The amount of money following your child into school will be protected. As the number of pupils increases, so will the amount of money in our schools. On current pupil number forecasts, there will be a real-terms increase in the schools budget in the next Parliament.”

However, this is not the policy that was followed. The National Audit Office report of December 2016 states that:

“The Department’s overall schools budget is protected in real terms but does not provide for funding per pupil to increase in line with inflation. Funding per pupil will, on average, rise only from £5,447 in 2015-16 to £5,519 in 2019-20, a real-terms reduction once inflation is taken into account”.

In other words: whilst the total cash sum provided to schools is rising in line with inflation, because the number of pupils attending school is going up, the cash paid to schools per pupil after inflation is falling, in direct contradiction to government policy.

This was confirmed by Jonathan Slater, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education who told the Public Accounts Committee in January 2017 that “the Government has protected the funding of schools overall in real terms, but not per pupil”.

At the same time, increasing staff costs, the introduction of the National Living Wage, higher contributions to National Insurance and the teacher pension scheme, non-pay inflation, the Apprenticeship Levy and the loss of subsidy through the Education Services Grant all create significant additional costs for schools, meaning that funding per pupil is falling even further.

According to the National Audit Office, the combination of flat funding and increasing costs equates to an 8 per cent real terms reduction in school spending power – the biggest cuts since the 1990s.

Local parents, teachers and school leaders are already seeing the impact of this funding squeeze through cuts to teaching and support staff, increasing class sizes, the loss of some pastoral care and support services, cutbacks in extra-curricular and sports activities, an inability to invest in modern computing equipment to support teaching technology skills, and, in some cases, we have schools resorting to asking parents for termly cash payments to supplement core budgets because of the financial problems they face.

The government then announced an intention to introduce a new National Funding Formula in 2018 that would aim to address gaps in school funding between different geographical areas by using a new method to distribute cash.

I support the principle of more transparent and equal pupil funding across all parts of the country. But the government proposed to achieve this by redistributing money between schools from a total pot that is shrinking in real terms. And therefore, according to the government’s own figures, 49 per cent of schools in England would lose even more funding including over 2 million children in the worst affected schools.

In the constituency of {insert constituency name} where I live, the National Union of Teachers, Association of Teachers and Lecturers, National Association of Head Teachers, UNISON, GMB and UNITE have calculated that cuts will lead to {a 10% loss of funding in year 2019/20 when compared to 2015/16, or more than £500 less for each child – replace with figures for your constituency, which can be found here: http://www.schoolcuts.org.uk/}.

No school in any part of the country can afford to bear these losses; and there appear to be very few gainers anywhere. Analysis by teaching unions and the Times Education Supplement suggest that nearly all schools in the country will lose out when all of these factors are taken into account.

As the National Governors Association put it “there simply is no longer enough money in the total pot to sustain adequately all schools in England”.

I am aware that public funding for many other services is also under pressure – the NHS, policing and defence, for example. But funding for schools has a unique benefit that funding for any other public service does not: it lowers the cost of future public services.

The better we educate our children, the more likely they are to earn a living and pay taxes, rather than to rely on benefits and public services; the more likely they are to be fit, healthy and to eat well, rather than to become unhealthy and depend heavily on the NHS; and the less likely they are to commit crimes and to become a burden on the justice system.

Finally, and perhaps most worryingly, these cuts are taking place at arguably the most important time to invest in education for more than a century.

The decision for the UK to leave the European Union will require our future economy to be driven by a more productive, more creative, more highly-skilled workforce to compensate for the likely increase in tariffs and barriers to trade and investment in one of our largest export markets. The Government has recognised this challenge in part in its recent announcement in the Industrial Strategy Greenpaper of new “Institutes of Technology” and other measures to improve STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills in the UK workforce.

But how effective will those Institutes be if the Primary and Secondary Schools that prepare our children to attend them cannot afford to buy computers to teach the digital skills that will be vital to future productivity? And how can we enable those Schools to better equip our children with the creative, social, artistic, business and entrepreneurial skills that are equally important?

More directly, the increase in inflation caused by the devaluation of Sterling following the vote to leave the European Union will further stretch frozen school budgets which are already shrinking in real terms.

Worse, many economists believe that the global economy is undergoing a decades-long “Information Revolution”, driven by advances in digital technology, that will cause a transformation of our society and economy at least as significant as the Industrial Revolution. Recent work by the Universities of Oxford and New York[1], by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology[2], and by the management consultancy McKinsey[3], amongst others, has predicted that up to half of the activities that make up the jobs that people are currently employed to do could be taken over by computing technology within the next three decades. For example, many thousands of professional drivers in the UK will lose their jobs to autonomous vehicles.

In this context, the task of our schools is to prepare our children to possess skills and to seek jobs in 10 to 20 years’ time that we cannot currently imagine. The magnitude of that challenge surely demands that we prioritise significant increases to their funding and resources.

Our Schools are simply not being given the resources to address either their current financial challenges, nor this once-in-a-Century transformation of our society and economy that we – or more accurately our children – face.

As such, I ask you as a candidate seeking my vote to make clear in your personal campaigning and your party’s manifesto that:

  • Per pupil funding will not only be protected, but will be significantly increased in real terms by your party if is forms the next government.
  • No school in any part of the country will lose any funding as a result of your party’s policies.

Yours sincerely

{insert name}

[1] “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?”, University of Oxford:

http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf

[2] “Labor, Capital, and Ideas in the Power Law Economy”, New York University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2014-06-04/new-world-order

[3] “Harnessing Automation for a Future that Works”, McKinsey:

http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/digital-disruption/harnessing-automation-for-a-future-that-works