06/03/20

A group of school headteachers, governors, councils and education unions are lobbying the chancellor for an increase in funding to help schools in England avoid financial difficulties and potential cuts.

The coalition includes almost every influential organisation involved in state schools, including Worth Less? – a group of headteachers who have been agitating for additional funding – and will be asking the chancellor for an extra £5.5bn a year for schools. Their focus is on “woefully underfunded” provision for students with special education needs and disabilities (SEND).

In a letter written to The Guardian’s Rishi Sunak and Conservative MP Robert Halfon, the group said: “Nurseries, schools and colleges are all struggling to meet growing costs and demands, with many having to reduce what they offer in order to meet their budgets.”

Some local authorities in England have been told by the government to drain their school budgets to help pay for special needs provisions. Sabrina Hobbs, a headteacher of Severndale Specialist Academy in Shrewsbury, one of the largest special schools in England, said that impending budget cuts could have perilous effects on both students and teachers.

Speaking to The Guardian, she said: “The squeeze on special schools will soon begin to impact the most vulnerable children within our communities, as it will become impossible to accommodate their needs as resources and staffing are stripped right back.

“Leadership has been cut, management has been cut and curriculum opportunities have been cut. There is nothing else without risking health and safety and quality of life.”

Meanwhile, other headteachers who back the lobbying have been forced to reduce staff numbers and make cuts to essential provision, despite the government having promised an additional £7.1bn in school funding by 2022-23.

Four in five schools will be worse off

The coalition letter explains that once inflation and increased teacher pay is taken into account, more than four out of five schools will be worse off than they were five years ago.

“Much of that extra funding will be swallowed up on rising costs including increased and unfunded pay rises that have been introduced,” the letter said.

“This jeopardises the promised real-terms increased budgets for the schools and the pupils themselves.”

The figure of £5.5bn was calculated by the f40 group representing the local authorities with the lowest school funding in England. They analysed that £12.6bn per year is needed across the country, so the government’s investment falls short by £5.5bn.

Pupil with calculator

James McInnes, a Conservative councillor who leads the group, said: “We need to work together as a coalition of unions, local authorities, teachers and parents, and say that while we welcome the extra funding, we also need to keep pressure on central government so they understand that’s not the end of the story; that additional funding is still required.”

Mr. McInnes is also the Devon county council’s cabinet member for children’s services and schools. He said that budget deficits around the country are being caused by special needs funding requirements.

“Nearly every local education authority across the country is overspending in high needs, to various extents. So we need more money, but it’s not only about money. It’s about how [the government’s special education needs reforms] have been working.”

The Department for Education commented: “This government wants to build an education system that boosts productivity, improves social mobility and equips children and adults with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the bright future that lies ahead.

“That is why we are levelling up funding to ensure all schools have the right investment to deliver an outstanding education. On top of this, we are increasing high needs funding for local authorities by £780m next year, as well as £400m cash boost for 16-19 funding.”

The coalition’s letter to the chancellor will be backed by the main teaching and school leadership organisations including the National Association of Head Teachers, the Association of School and College Leaders and the National Education Union.