It would be one thing if Philip Hammond’s promise of £400m for ‘little extras’ in this week’s budget was merely patronising, but it shows a complete contempt for school leaders and a wilful ignorance of the real challenge schools are facing.
Just over a month ago, an unprecedented number of headteachers and principals marched to Downing Street to give a letter to the chancellor, setting out in relentlessly reasonable terms the real-term extent of the cuts to schools’ budgets, and the current and potential impact of this.
£400m is of course not unwelcome, and will go some (small) way to plug the £6.5bn backlog identified by the NAO as needed to repair current school buildings. But these are not ‘little extras’ in an otherwise sufficiently funded system.
The ‘extras’ that schools have already been forced to cut include: wider curriculum offers at KS4 and KS5 because of concern around staffing; wrap-around pastoral care that protects the most vulnerable students; teaching assistants who, when deployed intelligently, can allow teachers to focus on the learners who need the most support; and the extracurricular activities and opportunities that allow disadvantaged students the same chances in life as their wealthier peers.
These things are not nice-to-haves, but are fundamental in creating an equitable and quality education system.
Basic equipment which schools currently can’t afford, including high-quality textbooks, a wide range of literary books for reading for pleasure, specialist scientific and technological equipment should be a given.
On top of this, many schools across England are genuinely worried about paying their teachers’ salaries in the coming years, with no guarantee that the huge rise to the employer contribution to teachers’ pensions will be funded beyond 2020. This year, 60% of the teaching profession received a pay ‘rise’ less than inflation, meaning their spending power has reduced yet again.
Had the chancellor’s announcement not been couched in this language SSAT, with other partners, would have continued to campaign for sufficient and fair per-pupil revenue funding in any case. But yesterday’s announcement shows why all heads and teachers need to seriously get behind campaigns for sufficient funding, including WorthLess? and #RaisetheRate. The government are simply not listening.
Teachers and school leaders have been insulted this week, and might rightly feel hurt and angry. We do on their behalf. Going forward, we now need to speak together, as relentlessly reasonably as ever, to show politicians, parents and other stakeholders how this latest budget announcement will not address the current problems. Otherwise, it will be our young people who lose out.
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