You might not know it, but some of our schools are running out of money.
Take West Sussex for example. When it comes to education, West Sussex is the lowest funded county in the country, and it’s currently facing a financial cliff edge. Schools in West Sussex say they need an additional £20m from April next year, or they’ll face dramatic cutbacks.
That will mean staff won’t be replaced when they leave (and will be under further pressure if they stay), disruptive restructures (which too often lead to cuts in staff or downgrading) will be inevitable, learning support for kids who need it most will be lost, class sizes could balloon to as many as 36 children per class and – perhaps most remarkably – some schools might even be reduced to opening only four days per week.
That’s a shocking inditement of the way in which many of our schools are being funded.
If the worst happens and schools are forced to open fewer days each week, working parents and families will struggle to manage childcare and parents with children with special needs will find it extremely difficult to find services to look after their children while they’re at work.
The government say that these issues will be dealt with under the new national funding formula, but that doesn’t come into place until 2018, and even then it would take three years for West Sussex schools to recover from chronic underfunding.
And whilst it could end up giving more money to areas like West Sussex that need it, that money looks like it will come from taking money from other areas which also have great need – like inner city schools which often face higher costs.
The answer to the funding problems schools face is not to shift pots of money about – robbing Peter to pay Paul – but to provide the necessary additional funding to ensure schools across the country can provide quality education for all, decent wages for those who work in them and – crucially – stay open five days a week.
The case of West Sussex should be a warning to this government that despite their rhetoric about defending education and schools spending, there’s still not enough to go around. And that’s a cut that won’t just be felt now, its impact will be felt for decades to come.
Since Theresa May became Prime Minister in July, the Conservative Party has spent a great deal of time and money on educational hobby horses like grammar schools – £200m of funding for which was provided for in the Autumn Statement. And yet under their noses – and on their watch – there are real problems with school funding that aren’t being addressed.