When more means less

It’s rare that a march on Westminster raises eyebrows because people are so well behaved, but that’s just what Robert Peston has complained about today. As many as 2000 headteachers converged on Downing Street to deliver a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, asking for better funding for schools–dressed in school uniform suits, ties and twin-sets.

The issue that Peston is missing isn’t related to behaviour or dress-sense. School leaders are complaining about chronic underfunding that is threatening their ability to do the job properly. Throughout the day the DfE has been responding with what has become a ministerial mantra: we’re spending more on schools than ever before.

My piece in The Conversation this morning suggests that this “more than ever” is a meaningless statistic: heads are not denying that a lot of money is going into schools, but it seems the government can’t understand that costs are rising too.

With majestic timing headteachers this week received an email stating that employers’ contributions to teacher pensions will rise from 16 to 23% next September. It’s not yet clear how much of this might be funded by the government, but what heads will know is that every penny that isn’t properly funded will have to come out of their budget – so a real terms decrease.

These are the issues that cause so much concern to people whose overriding aim is to provide a great education for young people. Costs increase incrementally through a wide range of means, and schools absorb this by scrimping and saving, but the bottom line is there isn’t enough money. So what gives?

In the end it’s staffing: I know of a school that now has no cleaners (teachers clean their own rooms); some schools shed teaching assistants and lunchtime supervisors; and in the worst case teachers have to leave and class sizes grow. What headteachers fear is not the backlash they’ll get if parents have to buy books, or traumatic personnel procedures to lose staff, but that education suffers when schools are not properly funded.

No-one marching in London today will be impressed to hear that the schools’ budget is bigger than ever. What they know is that they have less to spend on children. A government that fails to listen to highly trained professionals who make reasoned arguments treats them with arrogance and contempt.

Chris Rolph



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