Education cuts mean education cuts, Prime Minister

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Three issues today demonstrate the determination of the government to attack schooling in England and Wales. The first is the continued fragmentation of the state education system by the introduction of divisive school models such as the ‘free’ schools, sponsored academy schools, specialist schools and now by extending grammar schools. The second is the reduction of school income under the pretext of ‘ending the postcode lottery’. The third attack comes from freezing the overall school budget so that £3bn will be cut by 2019-20.

There is indeed an inherited unfairness in the school funding formula in England and Wales measured by per pupil spending. Inner London schools receive an average £5,918 for each student while in Blackpool it is £3,336. Education Secretary Justine Greening is preparing a White Paper to change the designated school grant from the Department for Education (DfE) to local education authorities to even out the distribution of money and end this ‘unfairness’ (see FRFI 155).

A historic reason for this variation in funding is the 2002 London Challenge programme that doubled investment in schooling at a time when inner- city schools were in chaos with a high turnover of teachers and poor examination results. Refurbished buildings and a huge variety of learning support inputs raised academic attainment and led to a high participation rate in flourishing art, dance and drama departments. The ethnically diverse intake blossomed in a school environment that supported and encouraged poor children. This celebrated ‘London effect’ was no miracle. Nothing has more clearly proved that expenditure is the key to success in schooling.

Greening’s new proposals will take money out of the inner cities and redistribute it to underfunded schools in rural areas and towns like Stockport and Barnsley that have been starved of funds for years. But the 3.6% increase in extra funding for the least well-off schools will be swallowed up by a £3bn reduction in government funding that will affect all schools by 2019–20. Half the schools set to experience the biggest cuts will, in real terms, lose an average of £74,000 each for primary schools and £291,000 for secondary schools. For an average secondary school this is equivalent to the cost of six teachers. This is a cut that will accelerate unfairness for all in state education.

In his Spring Budget Chancellor Philip Hammond announced an additional £320m for ‘free’ schools and grammars. Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs have united to kill off the grammar school project. Tory former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, Labour former Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell and LibDem former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have formed a cross-party alliance against grammar school expansion. They are supported by about 30 Tory MPs, Michael Wilshaw, the former head of Ofsted and Neil Carmichael, Tory chair of the education select committee.

Grammar school expansion and fairness in the funding formula will mean conflict in political circles. But the overall cut in school budgets will lead to action on the ground as parent/teacher associations, pupils and the community have shown with meetings and marches already underway and about to start all over the country.

Susan Davidson


Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 256 April/May 2017