Headteachers and parents were left frustrated after their call for more basic funding for schools was ignored during last week’s Budget.
While the Chancellor Philip Hammond did allocate millions for the teaching of maths post-GCSE level and the training of maths teachers, there was no addition to the new National Funding Formula.
The news was a blow for 5,000 headteachers who wrote to Mr Hammond earlier this month telling him the new formula had done “little to alleviate either the funding crisis and/or funding disparities that are engulfing schools across the country”.
And parents said there was a “disconnect” between what the government thought was happening in schools and what parents and teachers “actually see happening on the ground”.
Michael Ferry, head of St WIlfrid’s School, in Southgate, said: “The lack of any reference to the financial situation affecting our schools was extremely disappointing.
“The Chancellor is fully aware of the concerns of over 5,000 headteachers representing schools from over 25 counties across England.
“These concerns reflect the significant challenges faced by schools through both a funding and teacher recruitment crisis.”
He added: “The Budget suggests that the Chancellor, along with others in the Cabinet and Department for Education, are simply not listening.”
While the National Funding Formula included investment of £1.3bn, the National Audit Office had already announced schools would face real-term cuts of £3bn by 2020, meaning they would still be £1.7bn worse off.
In their letter, the headteachers pleaded with Mr Hammond to reinstate that £1.7bn into schools.
Jules White, head of Tanbridge House School and driving force behind the Worth Less? campaign for fairer funding, said: “It seems that our reasonable request fell on deaf ears.
“The Chancellor has not returned the money taken from school budgets and as a result a postcode funding lottery still exists whereby many schools are on the edge of financial viability.
“When will the Department for Education and our local MPs state unequivocally that our schools are not funded adequately instead of leaving it to schools and families to continually foot the bill?”
Peter Woodman, head of The Weald School, said: “The two critical issues facing education in England and Wales currently are school funding and teacher recruitment. The recent Budget addresses neither issue.
“The crisis in teacher recruitment is a product of poor funding. When will the government realise that the long-term future prosperity of the country is being held to fortune by inadequate funding?”
He added: “The saddest words in education in a few years time will be ‘I told you so’.”
Headteachers have not been alone in their campaign for better funding – the county’s parents have been vocal and relentless.
Members of Save Our Schools West Sussex said they were “bitterly disappointed” by the Chancellor’s lack of action, with a spokesman adding: “It beggars belief that the Chancellor’s Budget, while seeking to increase skills in this country and improve productivity, is being remarkably shortsighted on the longer term picture of creating ‘world-class’ educated children.”
Parent Onay Faiz said: “The Budget has completely failed to address the enormous disparities in funding for schools across the UK, leaving an uneven playing field for our children.
“Meanwhile they are expected to compete for exactly the same exam results nationwide. How is that remotely fair?
“The Budget has also failed to acknowledge that it has taken so much money out of our schools since 2015 under its austerity policy, that the government’s claim of ‘record levels of funding being ploughed into schools’ is utterly meaningless against a backdrop of rising costs, loss of experienced and qualified teachers, crumbling school buildings, requests for parents to make up cash shortfalls, and missing bare essentials like classroom equipment, paper and pens.
“As one of the richest countries in the world, how can we be failing our children so spectacularly?
“There’s a disconnect between what government thinks is happening and what we as parents and schools actually see happening on the ground.”
Fellow campaigner Sarah Maynard added: “Rising costs in schools are wiping out any so-called extra funding from Justine Greening’s rejigged education pot.
“It’s misleading to state that the money given for each child, pupil premium, is ‘protected’ when the real today value of that increase is significantly diminished.
“What we need is the money that was taken out to be put back and for it to keep pace with increasing costs.”
Onay said: “The government seems to think that it has addressed the chronic under-funding crisis in our schools.
“But what was allocated in July was merely a few rocks to stop an overflowing dam.
“Some have described it as a sticking plaster remedy for an amputated leg. I’m inclined to agree. And if we don’t remedy that, we are heading toward a failing education system.
“Are we going to wait until it’s too late, and then suffer a worsening skills crisis in the country?”
After more than a year of campaigning, Save Our Schools West Sussex said members would be asking the county’s MPs to join them in a meeting with headteachers to “explain why the government is claiming the crisis is resolved”.
Unions described Mr Hammond’s Budget as “a missed opportunity”.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said: “The first thing to say is that school budgets are still at breaking point, and the Chancellor has done nothing to alleviate that pressure.
“It will now be impossible for many schools to avoid making redundancies, to continue to keep class sizes at an acceptable level, and to offer a full and rounded curriculum to all pupils.
“It is impossible to claim that this is a Budget which embraces the future when it doesn’t contain any new money for schools or young people.”
Regarding the £40m allocated to train more maths teachers, Mr Whiteman said: “All additional money is welcome, although what is needed is system-wide investment rather than a piecemeal approach.”
Corbyn rages at Chancellor
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn raged at Chancellor Philip Hammond following his Budget statement on Thursday (November 22).
Criticising the decision not to include more basic funding for education, Mr Corbyn told the House of Commons schools would be 5 per cent worse off by 2019 under the new National Funding Formula.
He reminded the House 5,000 headteachers had recently written to the Chancellor appealing for more cash. He also shared the story of a senior science technician called Robert, who told him his pay had been reduced by more than 30 per cent, while his schools underwent “massive cuts”. Mr Corbyn told Mr Hammond: “That is what does for the morale both of teachers and students in school. According to this government, 5,000 headteachers are wrong, Robert is wrong, the IFS is wrong – everybody is wrong except the Chancellor.”
The IFS – Institute for Fiscal Studies – said the National Funding Formula would freeze average school budgets at current levels over the next two years and would represent a 4.6 per cent real-terms decline in those budgets by 2020.
Nick Gibb, minister for school standards and MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, said: “The fact is that under this government, there are 1.8m more children being taught in good or outstanding schools than in 2010. The claims being made by the trade union about school funding are fundamentally misleading. There are no cuts in funding – every school will see an increase in funding through the formula from 2018.
“The figures the trade union are peddling are based on historical data and do not reflect the situation in our schools today. They also ignore the fact that schools’ funding is driven by pupil numbers and, as pupil numbers rise, the amount of money schools receive will also increase.
“As the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has confirmed, overall schools funding is being protected at a national level in real terms per pupil over the next two years. At the same time, our historic reform of the school funding system – backed by an additional £1.3bn of extra funding – will replace the current postcode lottery which has created hugely unfair differences in funding between similar schools in different parts of the country.
“Our new formula will allocate a cash increase of at least 1 per cent per pupil to every school by 2019-20, with much higher gains for underfunded schools.”