School leaders in the South West say lack of funding is forcing them to make cuts

Laura White
Laura White

On 20th October, school leaders’ union NAHT released the regional results of a survey of its members on school funding.

Responses from school leaders in the South West showed that:

• a third (33%) have already had to make cuts to balance their budget, and 38% predict they will be forced
to make cuts this year; and
• one in four (27%) school leaders predict a deficit budget in 2021/22, based on current funding levels.

School leaders identified a number of factors that were causing pressure on their budgets. These included:

• providing required support for pupils with SEND. An overwhelming majority of school leaders (95%) reported that funding for pupils with SEND in their school is insufficient, and similar numbers (91%) reported that top-up funding for pupils with
EHC plans was insufficient;
• costs associated with maintaining coronavirus disease safety controls; and
• lost income, eg: rentals of school facilities, as a direct result of the coronavirus disease pandemic.

Ruhaina Alford, an executive head teacher in Devon, said: “The funding crisis results in a Hobson’s choice for heads: which of the most essential resources will children have and which will they have to do without?

You would expect an essential like reading books to be provided by the school. But no, to afford these, parents and the local community have to constantly fundraise. So, although parents are sending their children to a state-maintained school, they are still footing the bill. Is this fair?”

Tim Bowen, NAHT president said: “The situation regarding school funding – for general budgets, pupils with special educational needs and the COVID-19 recovery programme – is in a critical situation. Spending per pupil in real terms is lower now than it was a decade ago and schools are responsible for so much more. The system is at breaking point. The Government needs to see education as investing in our country’s future, rather than a burden on the Exchequer.”

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary said: “The Government’s failure to invest in schools in the South West and across the country over the past decade is forcing school leaders to cut back on staff, support for pupils, and activities that enrich the school day. It is clear that school budgets in the region remain under enormous pressure.
‘The evidence is very clear that by 2023, school funding will still be lower in real terms than it was in 2010. Given the additional demands on schools, including the challenge of responding to COVID-19, that is not a sustainable position and will lead to further cuts in schools becoming unavoidable.

‘Our research shows that already almost a third of school leaders in the South East is being forced to make cuts in 2020/21.”

Mr Whiteman added: “What we are seeing here is a combination of long term underfunding and additional pressures caused by the pandemic. If the Government is serious about educational recovery and its suggestion that no child will be left behind, then it needs to provide pupils and schools with the resources they desperately need. Now, more than ever, we need to be investing in education, not cutting back.”

There were 166 respondents from schools in the South West. The survey took place in the summer.

NAHT’s findings come as the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported that school spending per pupil in England fell by 9% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2019-20, which is the largest cut in over 40 years.

Almost three quarters (73%) of schools still have less per pupil funding in real terms than they did in 2015.

Current ‘recovery’ spending in England amounts to around £310 per child according to the Education Policy Institute, compared to £1,800 in the USA and £2,100 in the Netherlands.

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