Truth matters. HM Government has been reprimanded in the past by the Office of National Statistics for telling untruths about school funding. Because of this track record of mendacity the recent funding undertakings have been met with moderate enthusiasm by Heads. So, today, the Institute for Fiscal Studies published a second annual report on education spending in England, funded by the Nuffield Foundation. I only quote the bits that affect children in our age group, but it is worth a read.
Spending by local authorities on services for children and young people is increasingly focused on mandatory elements and responses to crises. Spending on children looked after by the state is up nearly 20% since 2010 and spending on children’s social care is up 9%. However, spending on preventative services has been cut significantly. Spending on Sure Start is down 62% and spending on services for young people is down 65%.
Extra funding announced in the spending round effectively reverses past cuts to school spending per pupil [but that’s all it does].
- Total per-pupil spending on schools in England has fallen by about 8% in real terms since 2009–10. This is largely driven by a 57% cut in spending per pupil on services provided by local authorities and a cut of more than 20% in sixth-form funding per pupil.
- Funding per pupil in primary and secondary schools fell by 5% in real terms between 2015–16 and 2019–20.
- The government proposes teacher starting salaries of £30,000 for 2022, an increase of about £6,000 or 23% on current levels. Few details are available on how this will be delivered, but such details will be very important in determining likely pressures on school budgets.
- Despite the increase announced for 2020, funding per student aged 16–18 has seen the biggest squeeze of all stages of education in recent years. School sixth forms have faced budget cuts of 23% per student since their peak in 2010–11. The 2019 Spending Round allocated a further £300 million for 2020–21. This represents a 4% real-terms increase in spending per student, but will still leave spending per student in further education over 7% down on 2010.
- Student numbers are growing, so an additional £300 million on top of current plans would be required by 2022–23 just to avoid further cuts in per-student funding. Fully reversing cuts since 2010–11 would cost £1.1 billion on top of current plans by 2022–23.
It may be better than nothing. It may look really encouraging, but school funding isn’t index linked, it doesn’t go up with inflation. This proposed increase, however welcome, is less than the rate at which costs are rising. Will the promise mean additional teachers, resources or extra staff? Will it cut down Tallis sixth form class sizes or reduce our teacher workload? I shouldn’t think so.
The little ones have got more confident and are picking up speed. Long shiny corridors are irresistible to an 11-year old in new trainers and our day is punctuated by cries of ‘Walk!’ I direct some to Drama every day: ‘Go through all the double doors until you hit the wall then look for your class on the left.’ One looks impatiently at me, as to an eccentric who’s gone too far. ‘I don’t really think we need to hit the wall, Miss.’
Year 11 are facing up to a misspent year 10. Some are being given extra support in Study Hall after school every day, not entirely voluntarily. Some have sought to elude this, outraged by the sheer persistence of adults in league against their frittering away the year. We bring them a motivational speaker of unashamed cheesiness: he’s captivating, and they love it. I sit in on a debate about sex and religion in RE which is loud and beautifully respectful, though distracted by gay penguins. ‘Really?’
I talk to the sixth form about the Supreme Court, and Fuller’s 17th Century dictum be ye never so high, the law is above you. I tell them we live in extraordinary times but they assume that all times are like this and can’t imagine a calmer way to regulate national life, can’t imagine a world in which truth is reliable, systematic, embedded, irrepressible.
We claim of ourselves at Tallis that we mean what we say. The small girls are asking me if it’s true, or if we’re just some more adults who promise one thing but mean something else. They’d really like an answer. I have high hopes for them.