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Funding crisis or funding bonanza? War of words between school leaders and ministers

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When I was at school back in the late 1980s, the Victorian toilets stank and paint on the corridor walls was flaking off.

Sometimes when storms battered the school, rainwater would drip into tin buckets dotted all over the place and, on one occasion, the roof fell in during geography.

But that was then and this is now, right?

Well, I’ve just spent a week in some schools where that’s still going on. Where window frames are rotting, walls are crumbling, plaster is falling off, paint is flaking off and yes – where the classroom roof falls in.

I’ve heard from headteachers who say things like “we’re on the brink” or “I don’t know how long we can go on like this” and “there’s no money to pay for anything anymore”.

And that confused me. Because when I chatted to the Department for Education they said that levels of funding in schools was at record levels.

In fact they said by 2020 core school spending will top £43.5bn.

£43.5bn? To me that didn’t sound like a funding crisis but a funding bonanza.

But then I read a report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, published on 12 July, that said spending per pupil has FALLEN by 8% since 2010.

And then the government turned around and said there had been a 50% RISE in real-terms spending per pupil than in 2000.

Then the National Association of Head Teachers said a third of schools next year will be running at a loss.

So the government came back and said funding for schools with high concentration of special needs had risen to over £6bn.



Headteachers are complaining that government cuts are damaging the quality of education.




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Headteachers are warning of a funding crisis putting schools at risk

I realised – after a rest – that I was in the middle of a protracted war of words between headteachers and the government, one which shows absolutely no sign of abating. And that’s a big problem for our schools and the children in them.

On Friday more than 1,000 headteachers from across the UK will march on Downing Street with a petition calling on the government to put more money into schools.

It’s the first time so many school leaders will have held a demonstration of this kind – teachers have marched but heads have always resisted – and it’s a manifestation of a growing rift between the people we trust to educate our children and those who are tasked with paying for it.

Imagine you have £80-a-week to spend on shopping. Then your weekly budget goes up a bit to £85 – you’d be happy – good news. Next time you go shopping the same shop costs £90, and the stuff you never usually had to pay, you suddenly had to pay for. You’re budget had still gone up, but you were worse off.

This is the argument being put forward by teachers; the government says their budgets have risen, but teachers say there’s loads more stuff to pay for, like speech therapists, special educational needs support staff, rises in national insurance, pension contributions, teacher pay rises and reduction in the amount of money they have to maintain school buildings.

It feels like a stalemate – the immovable object and unstoppable force scenario.

I put it to one retired headteacher of 30 years that they were, perhaps, naive to expect things to materialise at the click of a finger without having to consider how they’re paid for.

He said: “What are we doing here? We are preparing today’s children for the world – this is about getting them training and jobs and giving them life chances – for the good of the economy. This isn’t rocket science.”

Maybe so. There’s probably no money in the budget to teach rocket science anyway.

But caught in the middle of this swirling storm of statistics are children and their education.

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