From the implications of knife crime to the inability for secondary schools in England to even cover their costs, the continued funding pressure on the education system is rarely out of the news. As specialist suppliers of equipment to schools, colleges and further education establishments across the UK, the team here at SoTerra is acutely aware of the budgetary landscape, and its repercussions for staff, pupils, administrators and local authorities.
Of course, on a hard-headed commercial level, it encourages us to focus on a flexible, agile approach to procurement so that we can pass on financial savings whenever and however possible. But on a human level, it’s difficult to resist making a critical analysis, and asking serious questions about what we truly value as a society.
Take knife crime. With a hideous epidemic threatening the lives of our young people, Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman recently warned against the simplistic assumption that exclusions were driving children into the arms of gangs. Highlighting how spending cuts have affected education and social services, she said: “Schools simply do not have the ability to counter the deep-seated societal problems behind the rise in knife crime. Some schools are valiantly trying to fund school-based early help services or other services that were once provided for free.”
I certainly take my hat off to that gallantry – especially after digging a little deeper to unearth the catalogue of statistics behind the headlines. The story starts on a financial cliff edge. According to research by The Education Policy Institute, almost one third of local authority secondary schools in England are unable to cover their costs.
In statistics: current funding pressures in the education system
- School funding growth continues to be positive in cash terms; however, annual growth often does not cover the additional costs schools are being asked to cover. Once calculations revert to per-pupil allocations, growth in pupil numbers are leading to reductions in cash provision
- The Education Policy Institute reported that the number of local authority maintained secondary schools in deficit reduced from 14.3 per cent in 2010-11 to 8.8 per cent in 2013-14. Strikingly, however, in the four years up until 2016-17, the proportion of schools in deficit nearly trebled, expanding to over a quarter – or 26.1 per cent
- The number of primary schools in deficit has also risen. In 2010-11, 5.2 per cent were in deficit – this reduced in the following year to 3.7 per cent, before staying at a level of around 4 per cent until 2015-16. However, in 2016-17, the proportion of primary schools in deficit increased significantly, to 7.1 per cent
- On school staff pay, the institute found that funding allocated by the government through its new National Funding Formula for schools (NFF), fails to meet pressures on school budgets. This despite the announcement of an extra £1.3 billion in funding for schools by the government in July 2017
- As many as 40 per cent (around 7,500 schools) are unlikely to receive enough additional government funding in 2018-19 to meet pay pressures. For 2019-20, this proportion rises to nearly half of state-funded mainstream schools in England (around 9,000 schools)
- In response to pressures, schools have undertaken various cost-saving efficiency measures, such as switching suppliers, reducing energy use and reducing leadership team size. Many schools face the challenge of containing budget pressures and reducing staffing numbers without harming education standards
- The Institute for Fiscal Studies revealed that per pupil funding has been cut by 8 per cent since 2010 in real terms – due to rising pupil numbers, cuts to local authorities and sixth-form funding
- Research by C3 on behalf of BESA shows that average per-pupil funding in primary schools over 2017/18 declined by an average of £11 per pupil. But based on projections for 2018/19 allocations will rise by £63 (1.6%9. Secondary schools will see rises in both 2017/18 and 2018/19)
- Schools are indicating the lowest recorded level of optimism about future funding. For example, in 2013 a third of secondary school leaders were optimistic, with 10% being optimistic in 2019/20. Although primary schools are generally more optimistic, less than half of schools are now optimistic, compared to 79% in 2015
- The additional
“little extras”£400m funding for schools announced in the autumn 2018 budget represents less than 1% of total school budgets. C3 research indicates that the majority of it will be lost in general budgets, used against deficits or allocated to capital expenditure