With Boris Johnson in his dream job at Number 10 and Gavin Williamson installed at the Department for Education, the school funding taps need to be turned back on. Given the toxic nature of school funding for the Tories, at the last election, it was no surprise that significant promises were made during the leadership race.
Other problems facing education – in particular a lack of teachers particularly at a secondary school level; driven by workload from an over bloated accountability system – will have to wait until post-Brexit.
Sorting out funding for schools needs a ten year plan; the Education Committee’s thinking and recent report are spot on. However, what’s needed now, educationally and politically, are some short term, quick wins; whilst time is sought for longer term thinking and some space in the legislative programme.
Quick Win 1 – Fund the other 2% of the School Teachers’ Pay Award which the previous incumbents of the Department for Education believe is knocking around spare in schools’ budgets. The Teachers Pay Grant is already set up and can be increased beynnd the 0.75% funding promised to the full 2.75%. That would take a lot of the sting out of union and school leaders’ response to Monday’s announcement.
Quick Win 2 – The de minimus £5,000 per pupil was clearly a top of the head, sounds like a good number; in reality it was miserly. Increasing this, in year, to £5,200 or £5,400 (or any number you want to pluck from the air) will have the benefit of increased funding to schools with the lowest levels of per pupil funding, largely pleasing the Tory shires.
Quick Win 3 – Come good on the promise to protect the most vulnerable in our society. Increase the High Needs Block funding – again in year – by £1 billion. This would be a powerful message from Number 10. It could be linked to local authorities agreeing to reverse any 0.5-1.0% top slicing of the Direct School Grant Block; again putting funding back into schools, quickly.
In addition, a one off uplift to Pupil Premium funding (could be consolidated or not in future years) would benefit schools working in the most challenging and deprived areas. Again, the funding mechanisms are in place.
Quick Win 4 – There needs to be an immediate uplift in post-16 funding before the sector falls over.
This is no longer a rational debate about whether schools need more funding. It’s now a political debate about whether austerity is over, public services are “safe” in a Tory government’s hands and “defeating Jeremy Corbyn”. Leaving funding increases to just before the 2022 election runs the risk of being dismissed as cynical electioneering. In any case, we may be electing a new government well before 2022.