Interviews

14.12.17

Are we taking a risk on education?

Adrian Prandle, director of economic strategy and negotiations at the National Education Union (NEU), questions the stark lack of announcements around education funding and staffing in this year’s Autumn Budget.

Back in July, education secretary Justine Greening unveiled a £1.3bn two-year funding package for schools across the country: seemingly good news at first sight, but one which many organisations argued falls flat of addressing chronic underfunding and systemic issues in the sector. Two months later, the Department for Education announced new measures designed to end the historical postcode lottery in schools funding by ensuring cash is distributed based on individual needs and characteristics – but again, councils argued that while the new funding formula recognised their role in local budget-setting, it was not sustainable in the long term.

It is no surprise, then, that the education sector was eagerly awaiting some further reforms in November’s Budget that took into account the views of local authorities, unions and community groups in order to deliver a more robust solution to the ailing sector.

Just four days before the Budget speech, the NEU, alongside other groups responsible for the School Cuts campaign, released an analysis of departmental statistics which showed that almost 18,000 schools – or 90% – are facing real-terms cash cuts per pupil. It also created ‘five tests’ that the chancellor would have to pass in order to deliver high-quality education: reverse school cuts; offer new money; finance early years and post-16 learning more fairly; develop a five-year economic plan; and address historic underfunding.

If this five-point test was an actual school exam, it is fair to say the chancellor would have fallen extremely short of the necessary marks – and this time, understaffing or under-skilling wouldn’t be to blame. As well as no new money or mention of the alleged recruitment and retention crisis in the sector, Philip Hammond chose to focus primarily on maths and computer science qualifications, with other subjects seemingly falling by the wayside.

Speaking to PSE a few hours after the Budget speech, Adrian Prandle, director of economic strategy and negotiations at the NEU, said his union thought the announcements had been hugely disappointing – especially when groups had been asking for £2bn more per year to make up for the current cash shortfall.

“They’re taking a risk with education,” he argued. “Maybe they’re waiting to see about that £1.3bn [from July], but there’s quite a lot of evidence that it’s not enough. Government’s taking a risk by not adding more, and I think there’s a big question about whether schools can deliver the education that we expect in this country whilst they’re losing money to this extent.

“It’s a risk in terms of Brexit, and whether that can succeed without having really high-quality school education which also covers a broad range of skills. And politically, it’s a huge risk for them as well: parent campaigners have already been joining with our union in the campaign for school funding, and I think that’s going to increase after this.”

For a politician who openly acknowledged that he understood “the frustration of families where real incomes are under pressure,” it is even more questionable that he didn’t seek to address this for the teachers who are leaving the profession in swathes – or not even being attracted to it in the first place – due to pay constraints, added Prandle.

“I don’t think his words matched his action, basically,” he continued. “There’s a recruitment and retention crisis in education, and ultimately it’s pupils who lose out on that, whether that’s because their class sizes increase or whether it’s because they end up being taught Maths by an English teacher or English by a Maths teacher.”

There was some new funding announced to test a Teacher Development Premium, but this will only finance a handful of targeted pilots for teachers working in areas that have fallen behind others.

“That will be okay for some, but it’s a really small amount of money when schools are under a lot of pressure,” said the NEU official. “The problem when you have high workloads is that there’s then no time to take up this training.”

Going forward, Prandler’s union is hellbent on achieving its asks by continuing to campaign alongside community groups and parents by speaking to local MPs about educational issues across constituencies, as well as lobbying central government.

When PSE went to press, the sector was still awaiting announcements from the School Teachers’ Review Body on what the pay uplift would be from next September, and whether that will be restricted by the infamous public sector pay cap. While the government has signalled its desire to scrap the unpopular policy, it has so far only confirmed its intention to finance this move for NHS nurses.

“At the moment, what the review body said in its last two reports is that the restrict in teachers’ pay is dangerous for recruitment and retention and ultimately for children’s education,” noted Prandler.

“And if the government doesn’t fully fund it, then you just have a competition – do schools put the money on teachers’ salaries or do they buy textbooks? And that’s just an impossible decision.

“Doing something to fund an uplift in pay that will start to restore the lost value of pay since 2010 will be the first step, and a big step, in addressing the recruitment and retention crisis of teachers – which we hope, in due course, will then help young people get a better education.”

Top image © skynesher

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Tw: #schoolcuts
W: schoolcuts.org.uk
W: neu.org.uk

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