On 17 March, the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan released a White Paper entitled “Educational Excellence Everywhere”, containing the government’s plans for state schools in England. As predicted, government is seeking to set about changing the way funding is allocated. The current funding formula has led to large disparities in the amount of funding per pupil different schools in the country get. But instead of levelling up, funding will decrease in real terms overall by about 8% per student over the next five years, and some areas will be hit much worse, particularly inner-city neighbourhoods and London.
The current proposals will result in many schools not meeting the needs of the children, particularly the most oppressed, with the greatest needs and who have complex and unstable backgrounds, or who are just poor. Teacher shortage, funding cuts, poverty are going to create a horrendous environment for both staff and students. In London, where the cuts will be possibly between 11 and 20%, it would not be surprising to see more regular assaults on teachers, pupil-pupil violence and more staff on long-term leave with mental illness. A recent report from the Educational Support Partnership showed that 84% of teachers have had mental health issues in the last two years — partly due to workload.
The government gives more money to schools it sees as successful, then says the schools it hasn’t allocated enough money aren’t doing well enough — this isn’t just a correlation, but an obvious cause. More staff means more contact time with students which means we can better serve them, get to know them, and help them to deal with their problems. And let’s not forget that these funding cuts to schools are in a broader context of austerity around the NHS and welfare budgets which will directly impact upon the most vulnerable children and young people.
At the National Union of Teachers′ (NUT) annual conference in April 2015, the union leadership presented, and conference unanimously voted for, a motion which committed the union to organise a public campaign about school funding similar to the FACE (fighting against cuts in education) campaign of the mid-90s. It has taken until now for that campaign to get started, and it has not been done by a big central push by the union. So we must run to catch up. We need an energetic and political campaign involving teachers, governors, councillors, parents and pupils across the country to demand more funding.
Some London NUT branches have set up a ″Keep London Schools Great″ campaign, which is a good start. However this campaign needs to move beyond a few public meetings run by the already-existing union structure and become a real campaign run by local committees of teachers, students, parents and other campaigners. The successful strike in sixth form colleges shows that strikes over education funding can be done. A political campaign around the funding cuts, which makes positive demands about increasing funding, linked to a national contract for teachers and against the academisation plans, and involves parents and students, combined with strikes, could push back a government which looks increasingly weak on this issue.