Kevin Courtney is General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers. This is a sponsored post by the National Union of Teachers.
The headline pledge of £4 billion in funding to schools in the Conservative manifesto is undoubtedly appealing, on the surface. It signals a recognition – albeit belated – of the funding crisis in schools. This is welcome, after many months of the Prime Minister and her education ministers being in a state of denial. Their repeated efforts to try and take refuge in statements about ‘protecting the core school budget’ were utterly remote from the experience of teachers and parents.
Scratch beneath the surface of the manifesto, however, and it is clear that the manifesto proposals fall very short of need. What has actually been promised is £1 billion per year, which is not enough when schools are facing a £3 billion real terms cut in their funding.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies translates Conservative proposals into a three per cent cut in funding per pupil between 2017-18 and 2021-22. Should this happen, class sizes will continue to go up, more staff numbers will be cut and more subjects will be dropped from the curriculum. This lack of investment is clearly damaging. We should be equipping the next generation with the skills to help the UK flourish after Brexit and prioritising education and skills as the route for us to close the productivity gap with our competitors. As the CBI make clear in their own election manifesto, business needs access to the people and skills needed for growth. Skills will be at the heart of our future prosperity.
The Conservative manifesto proposes to part-fund its spending commitment through replacing universal free school lunches for four- to seven-year-olds with free school breakfasts. Breakfast Clubs are a good addition, if properly funded. Researchers at Education Data Lab, however, have said that the £60 million overall cost in the manifesto assumes food costs of 25p per pupil and does not include staff costs. They have suggested the scheme is likely to cost in the region of £180 million to £400 million, depending on how many pupils take them.
Getting rid of a universal offer of a hot meal in the day doesn’t make sense or represent value for money, given the investment many schools have already made in kitchens and staffing to ensure their availability. The Education Policy Institute has spelled out the consequences warning that as many as 900,000 children from low-income families could lose their entitlement to the midday meal. This will affect many of the ‘just about managing’ families that Theresa May has promised to protect.
Over the past few months, the National Union of Teachers has been at the centre of a campaign on school funding that MPs and candidates have not been able to ignore. We have identified the impact of cuts on every school in England and Wales through the joint union website www.schoolcuts.org.uk. Nearly a million people have connected through it, with tens of thousands offering practical support to the campaign. This level of concern and interest is something no political party can or should ignore.
The School Cuts website has now been updated to show what each of the election manifestos, if implemented, would mean for schools in every area. We find that the Conservatives’ plans would see 93 per cent of schools lose out.
In a few days, people will be going to the polls. Whichever party wins the election they need to be aware that parents, teachers and school governors will not accept cuts to school funding. The campaign to ensure our schools have sufficient money to run an effective and vibrant education system will not stop.