School leaders slam Autumn Statement as “a huge disappointment” for education

Published on 25th November 2016

Autumn Statement

School leaders’ pleas for increased investment in school budgets ignored in Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement

The government’s Autumn Statement has been slammed as ‘disappointing’ and ‘lacking courage’ by schools and union leaders.

Despite repeated calls for investment in education, Philip Hammond “virtually ignored” education in his first Statement as chancellor and the first since the Brexit referendum leaving school representatives “dismayed”.

In the Autumn Statement Hammond announced the National Living Wage will increase from £7.20 to £7.50 in April next year - a pay rise worth over £500 a year to a full-time worker. He also confirmed that the government has no plans to introduce further welfare savings measures in this parliament beyond those already announced.

It was also revealed that the government is committing a further £10 million over two years to the Rough Sleeping Fund which will double the size of the fund, to support and scale up innovative approaches to preventing and reducing rough sleeping, particularly in London.

However, Hammond said very little when it came to the subject of education. He highlighted that the government’s education reforms have raised standards and expanded opportunity with 1.4 million more children now in ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools. He added that the new capital funding for grammar schools will help to continue that trend.

“As part of the government’s ambitious plans to ensure every child has access to a good school place, the Prime Minister has announced plans to allow the expansion of selective education in England,” said a background document to the Autumn Statement.

“The government will provide £50 million of new capital funding to support the expansion of existing grammar schools in each year from 2017-18, and has set out proposals for further reforms in the consultation document ‘Schools that Work for Everyone’. The devolved administrations will receive funding through the Barnett formula in the usual way,” the document added.

Courage is lacking

Commenting on the Chancellor’s statement, Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said: “The Chancellor’s statement is a huge disappointment for schools and colleges.”

“All that Philip Hammond has done today is restate his commitment of £50m in new capital funding to support grammar schools. With 83% of schools already finding themselves worse off since the Conservatives took office, it is irresponsible to drive all additional money towards Theresa May’s pet project,” he added.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said there is no good justification “for wasting funding on expanding grammar schools, which will not benefit most children”.

But most unions and schools representatives which had repeatedly warned of the need to invest in education and boost schools budgets have expressed dismay at the lack of forthcoming funds.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said it is “disappointing” that the government has not used the Autumn Statement to invest in education.

“We know that school budgets are being pushed beyond breaking point. Almost nine out of ten school leaders are telling us that a rise in national insurance employer contributions and pension contributions are the key reasons behind financial pressures in their school. Freezing budgets at a time of rising costs is no protection at all. The government has the levers to address rising costs, but has again failed to pull them. In fact, with the new apprenticeship levy it is taking yet more money out of schools. 

“Social mobility has rightly become a focus for the government. And yet, without investment in what works - quality early years education, high quality teachers and the right funding delivered directly to schools - it is hard to see how the rhetoric can match the reality. Capital investment in grammar schools is the wrong priority, and a distraction from the most important issues in education.

“It takes a courageous government to spend money on programmes that will not deliver immediate benefits, such as investment in education. Sadly that courage is lacking today,” added Hobby.

Parents should be “deeply worried”

NUT’s Kevin Courtney also slammed the announcement as “a huge disappointment for schools and colleges,” saying education needed a significant increase in funding to protect schools and colleges against the impact of inflation and the higher pension and national insurance costs being imposed by the Government.

“The Government is not protecting education funding – it remains on course to inflict significant real terms cuts. Schools and colleges are already being hit, with job cuts and increasing class sizes. Teacher pay and conditions remain under attack, even as the recruitment and retention crisis intensifies and pupil numbers continue to rise.

“With schools facing 8% real terms cuts by 2020, we urgently need extra resources to support any changes to the school funding system. With 16-19 funding having been cut in real terms year after year since 2010, we need to restore the value of 16-19 funding and to provide real support for sixth form colleges. We need proper funding for SEND and to support early years spending. We need an end to the funding gap in Wales,” he added.

Malcolm Trobe, Interim General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the severe funding pressures in schools and colleges are so serious that some are struggling to deliver a full curriculum, courses are having to be cut and some sixth forms are closing.

“Education is arguably the single most important investment we can make. It provides the country’s intellectual infrastructure; the knowledge and skills which will enable us to remain competitive in a global market.

“Earlier today, Ofsted released statistics showing that 89 per cent of schools are now judged good or outstanding – an increase of five percentage points on 12 months previously. These outcomes are particularly impressive given the huge pressure on budgets as well as a crisis in the recruitment and retention of teachers. The government must urgently address these issues to ensure that schools have the resources they need to continue to raise standards.”

Dr Mary Bousted said the Statement will do nothing to help tackle the crises facing schools and colleges and warned that parents around the country should be “deeply worried by the Government’s lack of apparent interest in their children’s education”.

“Nine in ten schools already face a real-terms cut in funding for every pupil and school budgets are already on a knife-edge. If the Government doesn’t increase overall funding for schools they can’t recruit enough trained teachers, class sizes will rise, schools will reluctantly have to cut subject choices, they lack IT and teaching resources, can’t provide training for staff and struggle to keep school buildings safely maintained,” she added.

Dr Bousted also warned that unless the Government gives teachers, lecturers, support staff and heads more than a 1% pay rise, the recruitment crisis will escalate. More schools will be unable to find heads or qualified teachers for maths, English and modern languages and more heads will be forced to teach as well as run their schools.

New funding formula

James Bowen, director of middle leaders’ union NAHT Edge, warned that middle leaders often see the consequences of tight budgets through stagnant pay, a lack of investment in new equipment and the constant pressure of being asked to use leadership time to teach in the absence of enough teachers.

He warned that teaching is falling behind other professions when it comes to pay, with the government’s own School Teachers' Review Body (STRB) saying this. “Without extra investment, the recruitment crisis will only worsen,” said Bowen.

“Schools often step in when other public services are cut. Almost eight in ten NAHT members say that their school directly funds support for children with mental health issues. Even when faced with budget pressures, schools will try and do the right thing for their pupils. This is not sustainable over the long term. To make funding work, including moves to a new funding formula, we need to see the investment schools need.”

NUT’s Kevin Courtney agreed: “Without significant extra resources, any new funding formula - such as that promised - will simply lead to the current insufficient amount of money being spread more thinly. This will leave almost all schools significantly worse off than they are so far.

“The Chancellor says he recognises the need for investment to drive productivity, and that the Government aims for a high-wage, high-skill economy. If the Government really believed in these aims, it would have announced the reversal of its real terms education cuts and instead announced additional investment in education so that the potential of our children and young people can be developed for the good of our economy and society. The NUT will continue to campaign for increased investment in our schools and colleges.”

Autumn Statement https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/autumn-statement-2016-philip-hammonds-speech

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