In the two televised debates that have taken place so far, a teacher has been in the audience each time to ask the politicians about their education pledges. In the first debate, a teacher asked a panel of leaders “what would you do to support teachers in schools to make sure every child gets the best start in life regardless of background?” Last night, even though education didn’t feature highly, a teacher asked Theresa May “how will you ensure schools are adequately funded?”
School funding per pupil has been frozen since 2015/2016. Due to inflation and rising costs such as National Insurance contributions and pensions, schools have been facing a real-terms cut in spending per pupil, the first in England since the mid-1990s. Although school funding per pupil has almost doubled over the last 20 years, the IFS estimate these cuts will total about eight per cent over 2015/16 to 2019/20 if continued.
School funding has been central to the education election debate. Lobbyists from the Headteachers Round Table to the Association of School and College Leaders have all called for more funding for education. The main parties have responded in their manifestos. All commit to increasing the core revenue funding.
It is important to recognise, though, that this is not just another election issue – an idea or policy for the future. The fall in funding and the possibility of further falls is having a significant impact on schools now. There are regular reports in the media of schools asking parents for direct donations to pay for school supplies, along with reports of schools taking more extreme action, such as shortening the school day to cut costs.
Research from NFER’s Teacher Voice survey (using questions submitted by the Sutton Trust) shows that, in addition, schools are also cutting resources in response to a lack of funds, including teachers and teaching assistants.
Has your school had to cut back on any of the following for financial reasons?
(multiple response item)
Sixty-five per cent of the secondary school headteachers who responded to our survey reported that they have had to reduce teaching staff for financial reasons, with 44 per cent also restricting subject choice at GCSE and 40 per cent reducing subject choice at A-level.
While teaching staff cuts are currently less significant in primary schools, 21 per cent of survey respondents reported that they have had to reduce teaching staff. But it is teaching assistant posts that appear to be taking the brunt of the falls in funding in primary schools, with over 50 per cent of heads reporting reductions.
Funding education is therefore an urgent issue, and while it has been heartening to see it near the top of election issues, the real question will be, is it also going to be near the top of the to-do list for the in-coming administration?