School funding soars up election agenda as teachers warn of crisis

CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Guardian

Rising concerns over school funding have seen education emerge as one of the major issues of the election campaign, according to an opinion poll.
The Guardian reports that the survey of 1,000 parents of schoolchildren conducted by YouGov ranked education alongside health and Brexit as the most important election issues – and ahead of perennial concerns such as jobs, the economy or terrorism.
Of the 43% who named education as a prime issue, four out of five said they were more likely to vote for candidates who would tackle school funding.
The poll of parents in England, Scotland and Wales, carried out on behalf of the National Union of Teachers and published on Saturday, found that more than two-thirds believe schools are in financial difficulty, while just a quarter say they are adequately funded.
A substantial number of parents said they had been approached for financial contributions towards school running costs, including one in five who said they had been asked to pay for new textbooks.
“The findings of this YouGov poll point unambiguously to a growing crisis in our schools. Parents and teachers are already seeing the devastating effects of underfunding,” said Kevin Courtney, the NUT’s general secretary.
“Politicians of all parties should be aware that parents are saying school funding will influence their vote.”
The poll comes as Labour and the Conservatives have competed over school funding in England, with the Conservatives promising to redirect a further £1bn into budgets, largely by ending free school meals for all infants.
Despite that, analysts say the Tory manifesto pledge would still mean a cut in real terms for schools of nearly three per cent by 2021.
Sam Freedman, an advisor at the teacher recruitment charity TeachFirst, said: “It’s been a generation since education has been one of the top issues at an election. In part this is a result of improving schools and standards, but it’s now clear that pressures are starting to build.
“All sides have recognised that schools are feeling the pinch as pupil numbers and costs grow. Brexit has sharpened the focus on needing a highly skilled workforce to compete in a global economy.
“But there’s still too little attention paid to the biggest problem: the gap between the achievement of children from rich and poor backgrounds.
“Whichever party wins, if this country is to succeed, we must focus on developing the talents and skills of all young people.”
A separate survey of teachers in England and Wales, also carried out by YouGov for the NUT, found one-third reporting that the number of teaching jobs in their school had fallen since the last election in 2015.
About 60% of teachers said class sizes had increased in their schools over the last two years, while 38% also said the range of subjects available to pupils had shrunk since 2015.
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