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Schools funding crisis could swing election, union conference told

Schools funding crisis could swing election, union conference told
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Teachers gathering at the National Education Union’s conference in Brighton on Saturday were in a predictably angry mood. But there was a growing sense that, finally, the notion that there is a funding crisis in schools is breaking through with the general public.

Kiri Tunks, president of the NEU branch that was known as the National Union of Teachers before its merger with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers last year, enthusiastically endorsed the idea that worries about school funding could swing votes: “The government didn’t expect that at all [at the last election] – and it shows we are a force to be reckoned with.”

NEU delegate Sarah Murphy, a chemistry teacher from Stroud, said: “For Theresa May to say that more money is going into schools and suggest we’ve got plenty of money and we’re moaning about nothing – that makes me angry.

Where is the school funding coming from?

The money is being recycled from other parts of the education budget, including £200m from the free schools budget and £420m from the capital budget.

Does this new money mark an end to the school funding crisis?

No. The education secretary’s promise of an extra £1.3bn for schools over the next two years represents a shift in government direction following a ​campaign by teachers and parents in the run-up to the general election. But with rising costs and the uncertainty still surrounding the new national funding formula, the complex funding pressures facing schools are unlikely to be swiftly resolved.

What is the national funding formula?

In November 2015 the then chancellor, George Osborne, announced in his spending review that a major shake-up of the formula for funding schools in England was to take place by 2017. The aim was to come up with a new formula to ensure that the money was distributed more fairly among schools across the country.

How is it distributed now?

The current system allows for wide variations in funding between schools in some areas – especially London and other major cities – and those elsewhere in the country. As a result, schools in some areas can receive thousands of pounds more per pupil every year than another school in a different area. For example, a school in the South Yorkshire town of Barnsley receives on average £3,661 per pupil per year, while schools in Hackney, east London, receive £7,291 per pupil according to 2015-16 figures.

“What I’m seeing in Gloucestershire schools is increases in class sizes. I used to have A-level classes of 12 students; my Year 13 class is now 25.

“We have to watch how much we can photocopy. Staff in the schools in the county are being made redundant, subjects are being cut, and the breadth of the curriculum is being cut. People who say schools have plenty of money – they should come and see what I see.”

On the floor of the conference, speakers noted that the next election could be four years away, and that they couldn’t just sit back and, in the words of one speaker, “wait for Jeremy to come and save us”.

Rather than wait for the Labour party to catch up and come to power, the NEU teachers meeting in Brighton, and delegates at the NASUWT teaching union conference in Birmingham have a list of defined causes that they are prepared to fight for, including pay, workload, school funding and other major issues such as the funds being drained away by PFI contracts and academy chains.

Anna Wolmuth, a teacher from Camden, told how PFI services contracts were squeezing school budgets, with the effect that annual maintenance contracts, which had amounted to £200-£300 per pupil under local authorities, cost more than £800 per pupil under PFI.

Gerald Clark, another teacher in a school with a PFI contract, added that the costs of basic items were inflated by PFI vendors, which eats further into school funds. Cutting a single new key, which cost £1.50 at a high street kiosk, costs £28 through the approved PFI supplier, he said.

At the same time in Birmingham, Martin Hudson, a teacher from Newcastle, backed a motion at the NASUWT conference calling for a pay rise, saying he wanted enough money to be able to buy clothes from somewhere other than a discount store.

“We’ve had enough – we need to demand and secure a well-deserved and substantial pay rise for teachers. Conference, we need to effectively challenge seven years of derisory pay awards,” he told delegates.

“We need to ensure that we really get a substantial pay award this coming year, and not the damp squibs of 1% and 2% that we had last year.”

The NASUWT delegates voted unanimously in favour of the motion, which describes public sector pay as “deplorable” – and opens the possibility that the union’s executive will ballot its members on rolling strikes and other industrial action.

In Brighton, the debate was just as charged. Executive member Anne Lemon drew on the example of the University and College Union’s long programme of strikes on campuses over pensions. “One-day strikes will not cut the mustard,” Lemon told the NEU conference, as it voted for the newly merged union to take the first steps towards strike action.

CASE STUDIES

Henry Emoni, maths teacher, Essex

Henry Emoni maths teacher Essex



Photograph: Kois Miah

“The thing that angers me the most, after five years of teaching, is workload. It stems from fear and lack of trust in the profession. Ofsted does not trust head teachers, head teachers do not trust teachers. So teachers have to go and create evidence for the work they’ve done – it’s ridiculous. I know many teachers who’ve had to leave the profession because of workload.”

Cathy Smith, English teacher, Truro

Cathy Smith English teacher Truro Devon



Photograph: Kois Miah

“In Cornwall, 70% of schools are academies. Parents are being asked to provide money and teachers are being asked to provide materials themselves, enrichment activities are being cancelled. But at the same time there seems to be a whole load of money around to pay for the CEOs of those multi-academy trusts. There always seems to be jobs and money for the them, but none of it gets to the classroom.”

Debs Gwynn, special education needs co-ordinator, Runcorn

Debs Gwynn, special education needs co-ordinator, Runcorn



Photograph: Kois Miah

“I’m in my 20th year of teaching and every single year our working conditions have got worse, our professionalism is being questioned, and we are now seeing state education being sold off to the highest bidder. I’m really concerned about where this is going to take us. As a special needs teacher I can see that it’s our most vulnerable students who are suffering.”



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