In May, we warned that the Government’s “fairer funding formula” for schools was nothing of the sort: not fairer, as it took away support for schools that needed it the most; not improving funding, as every school in Ipswich – and most of Suffolk – would see a reduction in their funding; and not a formula for a decent education for our children. We showed that, unless the Government allocated significantly more money to our schools, they would lose huge amounts — £3 billion a year off the total schools budget in real terms by 2021.
Schools didn’t just face cuts in their funding – there are changes to the tax system, the cost of the Apprenticeship Levy and the need to meet increases in pay to the staff. Head teachers already have an impossible job in balancing the books and their determination to offer the best education for all their children is being undermined.
The Conservatives’ arrogant assumption that they could ignore public opinion altogether is no longer an option for them. One of the changes they have had to make as a result of the Labour gains at the election is to introduce some additional money to support schools – but it is nowhere near enough. The Government seems to think that by being very slightly less ruthless than they originally intended, they can bamboozle the British public into thinking that they are improving our schools. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A face-value rise of 2.1% in the context of 2.7% inflation, wage rises and the Apprenticeship Levy is actually a significant cut. Suffolk schools have already seen costs rise, with staff and courses being cut and parents being asked to make up the shortfall for school equipment and school trips. The financial situation has already been described as ‘desperate’ by head-teachers.
According to analysis of Department of Education (DfE) data, pupil spending will fall to £4,347, down from £4,470 in 2010 and well below the funding received in both Essex and Norfolk. For primary school funding, Suffolk will receive £273 less per pupil than the national average; this figure increases to £415 less per pupil in secondary schools. This cut means Suffolk will remain in the bottom 50 authorities for both primary and secondary funding.
On nearly every single subject, including Reading, Writing and Mathematics, Suffolk falls behind the national average at primary level. Fewer secondary pupils achieve a C grade in GCSE Maths and English in Suffolk than they do nationwide. Our children aren’t thick – at Early Years assessment, children’s performance in Suffolk is about 1% better than the national average. But our schools are unable to employ as many teachers and other staff as they would like – and the current cuts fall hardest on primary schools in Ipswich with the most disadvantaged pupils.
Not only do disadvantaged pupils do worse than non-disadvantaged pupils in Suffolk, they do worse than disadvantaged pupils in the rest of the UK as well. Ofsted told us that children with Special Education Needs are basically being failed – “Insufficient resources have been allocated to ensure that children’s and young people’s needs are identified and reassessed”. The Conservatives say you can’t fix things just by throwing money at them, but having enough money to do the job properly is a good start. And there is overwhelming evidence that, with the right funding and enough staff, all our schools can be more effective.
Under the Labour-led administration at Suffolk County Council, Suffolk was in the top quarter for educational performance. The results our children got were much better than places like Hackney. That’s why the Labour Government boosted low-performing local education authorities like Hackney, and gave enough money to schools with large numbers of disadvantaged pupils to enable them to raise the aspirations and achievements of those pupils – and it worked!
So what is the Conservative’s response? Not to do the same for non-London schools – no, their “Fair Funding” proposals reduce funding right across the board, and reduce it even more for those schools with more disadvantaged pupils, instead of extending the success of the London education project to schools in Suffolk and elsewhere. The answer is not “robbing Peter to pay Paul” – some schools in Ipswich and the rest of Suffolk are already high-performing, and their funding needs to be protected. But for those schools where more staff and better results are needed, the Government should be improving their funding, not cutting it. ALL our children deserve a decent education.