The Tories, not content with waging their ideological war on education through the turbocharged privatisation of schools and education in general, have continued to show their true colours through their recent budget announcements. The current ‘Funding Freeze’ on education coupled with the National Funding Formula will see mainstream schools face sweeping cuts of £3bn from the overall budget. Never ones to be socially divisive in half measures, the Tories have also decided to set aside £320 million for new grammar schools and free schools. This is at a time when many state schools are in a state of disrepair, and when the National Audit Office estimates that £6.7 billion is needed for repairs and refurbishment.
Back in 2015, the Conservative Party pledged in their manifesto that they would continue to protect school funding, but as usual nothing is quite so straightforward when it comes to Tories and their promises. What it actually means for schools is that the budget will not increase with inflation leaving schools, many with budgets already ‘on the floor’, unable to cover costs.
In addition to this, the National Funding Formula will see a flat rate given to schools which will not address the needs of those who are already in deficit. Earlier this year Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), described the state of school budgets as “close to breaking point”. This has come at a time when the school population is set to rise by 8% between now and 2020 and many buildings are in urgent need of repair.
The overall costs set to hit mainstream schools stands at a staggering £3.0bn with 98% of mainstream schools set to have a loss in funding for every pupil between now and 2020. In short, these are largest cuts to education for decades. These cuts will not only result in a narrowing of the curriculum and larger class sizes but will also see schools struggle to make ends meet and cover staffing costs. Many schools have already had to make redundancies, with things only set to get worse.
These cuts have rightly been met with anger from the main teaching unions. Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) states:
“All the Government’s warm words about protecting the poorest children look meaningless. Many schools are already struggling to make ends meet and are desperately trying to raise money from parents for school books and IT. These funding cuts will make the situation even more desperate.”
On a similar note, Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the NUT (National Union of Teachers) declares that:
“These are shocking figures that will create despair in schools up and down the country. Far from being the levelling up of funding that councils and heads have demanded, the Government is levelling down and schools across the country face real terms cuts in this Parliament. It is impossible to deliver an effective education to pupils if there is no money for staff, buildings, resources, materials, activities or a full subject choice.”
Further fanning the flames of division, the Tories’ beloved grammar school revival is in full swing with millions being set aside for their imminent return. The current education secretary Justine Greening has insisted that “they will close the attainment gap” and “level the playing field” despite many studies showing that grammar schools do very little to improve social mobility. Research from the Sutton Trust show that out of those students attending grammar schools only 3% where entitled to free school meals. Leading academics such as Stephen Gorard, Professor of Education at the University of Durham, have also continually challenged the myth that grammar schools provide a platform for social mobility stating that “There is repeated evidence that any appearance of advantage for those attending selective schools is outweighed by the disadvantage for those who do not. More children lose out than gain, and the attainment gaps between highest and lowest and between richest and poorest are larger.”
In rehashing an archaic and divisive model of education, it should come as no great surprise that Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, was heckled and jeered as she addressed the recent annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).
Angela Rayner, Labour Education Secretary has branded the Grammar School revival a “vanity project with no evidence it will help children move on from socially deprived backgrounds.” But then given the track record of the Conservative Party, should we expect anything less.