Funding in schools: the reality behind the figures

With the Department for Education coming under fire from the UK Statistics Authority for misrepresenting levels of school funding, what’s the truth behind the numbers? More is spent on education than ever, yet spending per student, and on specialist services, has dropped. We’ve reached out to industry professionals to uncover the reality behind the figures – and the consequences for school business managers

Hayley Dunn, business leadership specialist, Association of School and College Leaders
The claim that record sums are being spent on school funding is only true because the number of pupils has increased by more than 600,000 over the past eight years. Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows total school spending per pupil has fallen by 8% in real terms over that period; this includes cuts of over 20% to school sixth-form funding.
The claim that we are the third highest spender on education in the OECD is based on the total amount spent, from both public and private sources, on educational institutions as a percentage of GDP; this includes private school fees and university tuition fees and the government shouldn’t have used that statistic to defend its record on school funding.
The reality of the funding crisis is heart-breaking. Faced with rising cost pressures, schools have had to cut back on staffing and, in many instances, this has meant reduced curriculum options and enrichment activities and less mental health support and individual support for students. It also means increased class sizes and teacher workload.
As one school business leader told us in a survey earlier this year, “We’ve run out of rabbits to pull from hats. Every contract and cost has been reviewed, every ounce of surplus fat removed and every stream streamlined. We are at the point now where, if funding does not rise in real terms, education is going to suffer.”
Jon, SBM
While money is going into schools which previously didn’t get it, it’s also being taken away from those that did and this will impact performance and results. No-one can dispute that school funding is imbalanced and needs reform; however, the spending review is ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’. It’s a race towards mediocrity.
London and other city schools were very well-funded – and results reflected this, with city schools far outstripping rural schools in terms of performance. There is an obvious correlation here – better and more appropriate funding. Money saved from kicking enforced academisation into the long grass should have been put into funding all schools to the level of city schools.
Our school recently underwent a restructure saving £140k on staff costs. The outcome, after a difficult and worrying process for many staff members, was the school just being able to balance the budget for the new year – and providing minute curriculum budgets to post holders.
As an aging and expensive teaching body enters retirement age, coupled with a recruitment crisis, the ultimate losers will be children. Schools cannot afford to employ upper pay scale teachers so experience and talented staff will be replaced by NQTs who are passionate, but also inexperienced. As knowledge and experience leaves the profession through natural wastage, quality and standards will drop. This is the result of underfunding.
Dan Baynes, policy and research executive, Driver Youth Trust
Without adequate funding young people with literacy difficulties cannot access the support they need. Pressures on school budgets affect learners with literacy difficulties – estimated to be around 385,000 pupils in mainstream education. Only 16% of these pupils reach the expected standard in reading, writing and maths at KS2 compared to 70% of pupils with no special educational need (SEN).
The combination of cuts to local authority budgets and funding pressures on schools has caused specialist SEN support services to become fragmented, and heavily dependent on regional factors. It has become a ‘postcode lottery’ for pupils in need of accessing SEN support.
There are three steps the chancellor and secretary of state for education could take to support learners with literacy difficulties to access the highest quality education which is responsive to their literacy needs:

  1. The treasury should increase the schools’ block grant to reflect the external financial pressures that schools face.
  2. The Department for Education should ensure that funding pressures do not cause a deterioration of support for learners with literacy difficulties; the SEND notional budgets should be treated in a similar way to the pupil premium, so that all schools are accountable for the impact this has on pupils.
  3. School leaders should use the regional market when commissioning specialist services to ensure best quality provision, maximum value for money and impact for young people.

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