Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Big-City School Budgets Slashed

Justine Greening, Education Secretary, has announced plans to reallocate school funding, with schools in large cities such as London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool facing cuts of up to 3% over the next five years.

According to the National Audit Office, schools in England will be required to make savings of £3bn by 2020, due to rising pupil numbers, changes to the living wage and rising pension costs.

The new funding formula, which is to be introduced in 2018-19, will address "unfair" regional differences in funding, with 10,000 schools being granted budget increases of up to 3% in the first year and 5% in the second. However, similar numbers of schools will have their budgets cut significantly. For a large secondary school in London, a 1.5% cut could be equivalent to a £150,000 budget reduction.

Greening stated:

         "We need a system that funds schools according to the needs of their pupils rather than their postcode, levelling the playing field."

However, the proposed budget changes fundamentally fail to address the major funding shortages currently affecting schools nationwide. A barren wasteland is hardly a playing field. While some have conceded that the Education Secretary's new funding formula could address funding shortages in some areas, any benefits are to occur at the expense of those who, due to their postcodes funnily enough, will be given smaller fractions of the already insufficient total education budget. 

Like those who previously occupied the position of Education Secretary, Greening has opted for multiple simultaneous shifts in policy; drastic changes to GCSEs, new grammar schools, linear A Levels in which students sit a single set of exams at the end of two years, and a lurch towards paid apprenticeships as an alternative to increasingly expensive university courses. The worsening problems of insufficient staff, equipment and pupil places are ultimately results of chronic underfunding. By altering the very parameters on which schools operate, while simultaneously tampering with regional funding allocations, Theresa May's government has concocted a situation where the best possible outcome for many schools is simply managing to avoid the significant losses that loom.

After scrapping a scheme to deploy 1,500 "good" teachers to disadvantaged areas across the country, Greening's move to "level the playing field" holds little credibility as a policy change inspired by a genuine, vested interest in the education of the pupils in Britain's schools. Announced in 2015 by then-Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, the scheme aimed to give pupils "their fair shot". It is incredibly difficult to conceive of a "fair shot" in a system which is so jaggedly altered and reconfigured on such a frequent basis that whatever advantage available seems to default to the affluent. Similar rhetoric has been deployed by Greening, who's erratic policy changes are almost entirely incompatible with the very concept of fairness. 

The string of policies which have plagued the state education system for the past decade or so frequently betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of education. Simply placing teachers in certain areas as though they are automated implements of the state, as the National Teaching Scheme aimed to, is oddly akin to tossing teacups of stale brown water into a large fire. It doesn't work. 

The new funding formula will undoubtedly force schools to cut staff numbers, placing additional pressures on teachers who already face immense workloads, which will in turn drive more and more from the teaching profession, straining the state education system even further. At times it appears that there is an idea of teachers as faceless individuals who will 'always be there', even though all available evidence suggests the contrary. 

DISCLAIMER: This is a critical article, and so is comprised of the personal opinions of the author.

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