Time for a sea change in education funding

It is not often that a new Prime Minister arrives in post to find the legwork has already been done to solve a crisis.

But Boris Johnson has just such a plan available to him to reverse the education cuts and ensure schools and colleges have the money they need to meet the expectations on them.

The plan is the product of a collaboration between three education unions – ASCL, NEU, and NAHT – along with the f40 education fair funding campaign group, made up of 42 local authorities who are among the lowest funded for education in England.

It provides a rigorous analysis of the additional funding needed by 2022/23 to reverse education cuts, namely £12.6bn, and proposes a further £5.4bn investment over the following two years to 2024/25 to achieve a basic entitlement model developed by ASCL which guarantees a qualified teacher for every class and class sizes of no more than 30.

And if the new Prime Minister is seeking reassurance about the importance of such a plan, he need look no further than the recent report of the House of Commons Education Committee which calls for a long-term multi-billion-pound strategy for education.

One thing is clear: Mr Johnson would be wise to review his own plan which suggests £4.6bn extra by 2022/23. This is quite simply not enough.

In this blog, I am sharing with members our thinking behind our joint funding plan and how we have reached a point in time when the momentum for a change in the way we resource our education system is overwhelming.

How much does education cost?

In March 2019, ASCL published The True Cost of Education. The report considers what it costs to educate primary and secondary-age children in England in the 21st century and is in response to a question last year from Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the ESC when he asked how much a ten-year plan for education would cost. The True Cost report considers the whole country as one school and looks at the cost of basic entitlement, starting from how many teachers we need and working up from there. We made reasonable assumptions about how much time a teacher should be asked to teach, how they spend that time, and how much of the week a pupil should be taught by a qualified teacher.

MPs have had their say

On 19 July, the Education Select Committee (ESC) published the outcome of their inquiry into school and college funding. As ASCL funding specialist I have (unsurprisingly) been heavily invested in this inquiry and awaited its publication with more than keen interest. I am extremely relieved that their report, A ten-year plan for school and college funding, resonates pretty closely with what ASCL has been asking for. My feelings on the report should not be confused with any sort of self-satisfaction arising out of agreement with our proposals. What this report does is send a very clear signal that everyone involved in the inquiry thinks the same.

The ESC is a cross party group of MPs who have consulted with numerous experts from across the education sector: teachers, unions, and parents. Recommendations include:
  • address underfunding in 16-19 education
  • increase school funding
  • increase high needs funding
  • implement the National Funding Formula
  • develop statistical publications to give greater clarity on data and trends for school and college funding
  • develop a ten-year plan, using a funding model driven by a bottom-up assessment of the cost of delivering a quality education
The power of effective collaboration

Here’s the thing - whilst the ESC considered all contributions independently, ASCL has been working in collaboration with other unions, professional associations and campaign groups to develop a joint submission to the long-awaited government spending review. Working together, constructively, we have so much in common in the funding space. The result is a submission which very clearly sets out how much schools and colleges need to catch up and reverse the cuts which have caused so much damage. By 2022/23 the sector needs an extra £12.6bn. We’ve called it a long-term plan to reverse education cuts and it considers early years education, primary and secondary schools, 16-19 education and SEND up to the age of 25. The plan goes on to incorporate the findings of the ASCL True Cost report which demonstrates the need for an additional £5.4bn by 2024/25 if all our children are to be taught in classes of no more than 30, and by a qualified teacher 100% of the time – a basic entitlement we think.

In short, the ESC and the collaboration group are saying incredibly similar things! The message is loud and clear.

With that breadth of consultation and the sharp alignment of views surely all this signals a clear strategy for the new Prime Minister?

Competing priorities

We hear a lot about competing priorities from HM Treasury and it will be an immediate challenge for Sajid Javid, the new Chancellor. No-one understands the harsh reality of this more than school leaders and governing boards. The unfunded portion (2%) of the 2019 teachers’ pay award will cripple school budgets.

A question then for the Chancellor: what provision do schools cut next so that they can honour the pay award for their well deserving teaching staff and still set a balanced budget?

So, let’s end the stand-off position of “we need more” versus “there is more money than ever before”, and remember that this about the education of our children and the life chances of our young people. And for those outside the education bubble, just to be clear, this is about investment in the economic future of the nation. Education is an investment and not a cost.

Julia Harnden
ASCL Funding Specialist
Posted: 25/07/2019 12:36:15