Over recent months we’ve seen the government starve our social care of adequate funds, we’ve seen local government pushed to breaking point, and we’ve even seen our NHS become a ‘humanitarian crisis’.
But in my whole time representing our area in Parliament, this will be the first time that schools are facing real-term funding cuts.
By freezing per-pupil funding while inflation and other costs increase, schools will be missing out on seriously needed cash. According to the National Audit Office, that’s an average real terms budget cut of 9.5 per cent in primary schools and 8.7 per cent in secondary schools. This is a hit that struggling schools really can’t afford to take. Teaching unions say that these real-term cuts will affect 98 per cent of schools and some predict that spending per pupil will be the same in 2020 as it was in 1990.
The government disguises its cuts with a new National Funding Formula, which aims to change the way that funding is spread. Funding must be spread fairly, that’s obvious. But the National Funding Formula misses the point. When there isn’t enough money to go round, simply spreading it in a different way and taking money away from existing schools will not solve the problem.
It proposes a funding floor, which promises that no schools will lose more than three per cent of its funding. But the NUT says this isn’t the safeguarding mechanism it’s cut out to be.
Schools on the ‘floor’ will stay there until the formula permits a funding increase, meaning some schools will get no more funding until 2025 or later.
As funding dries up from central government, it comes as no surprise that the pressure to make cuts on a local level is mounting too. Several head teachers and school governors have written to me recently worried about cuts to Wakefield Council’s school and academy budget. The council plans to cut £1 million from the budget in 2017/18 - in addition to the £0.675 million cut that was already made in 2015/16.
With rising class sizes and other additional costs, this lack of funding will leave schools with impossible decisions to make.
Schools have made all the efficiency savings they can possibly make – now they have to cut essentials. If per-pupil funding continues to fall we can predict fewer staff, bigger class sizes and subjects dropping off the curriculum. This will no doubt prevent many children from reaching their full potential. One head teacher I spoke to was terrified of the effects the council budget cuts would have on his primary school.
The Tory government was elected in 2015 on a manifesto which said ‘the amount of money following your child into school will be protected.’ Why then, have 36 out of 42 schools in our area not seen the real-term maintenance of per pupil funding?
Our schools are precious public resources, not cost cutting schemes. We must support the next generation of doctors, teachers, engineers and nurses. If these cuts continue, our children will be starved of the excellent education they deserve – and that affects us all.