A good time to take stock

By John Freeman

| 07 August 2017

Now that Parliament has risen and we are in the depths of the summer recess, perhaps it's a good time to take stock.

The most obvious thing is that we now have a minority government - the ministers are mostly the same, as are the policies. However, I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that the loss of Edward Timpson as the children's minister is a loss for the sector - he was a values-driven minister who really cared about his portfolio.

It is unlikely that we will see any major legislation on education or children's services in the near future because government and parliament will be fully engaged on EU issues - which look more and more challenging by the day.

And austerity is still here…

Schools will always be at the frontline of public spending because they are an expensive universal public service - around £90 billion. Teachers, like other public servants, have been capped at one per cent pay rises or less (with inflation and a reduction in real-terms income of perhaps 15 per cent, according to the NUT) and this will continue. In terms of school budgets, this will help, of course, but it's hardly a recipe for high morale at a time of massive change and great uncertainty.

Perhaps as a result of the widespread public concerns over school funding during the election campaign, Justine Greening has done her best to find some cash for schools by scraping not just the bottom of the barrel but the outside of the barrel too!

Whilst an additional £1.3 billion for schools is welcome, this money is being redirected from existing budgets - which will therefore be cut. £280 million will come from the free schools budget. £420 million will come from the capital programme aimed at ‘healthy pupils' - mostly long-awaited and much needed sports facilities. This is at odds with the government's childhood obesity strategy. And the remaining £600 million will come from unidentified ‘savings and efficiencies'. The truth, of course, is that important budgets will be cut and children and schools will lose out. Local authorities need more information to better understand the implications for our schools and wider services.

The IFS was predicting that real-terms school budgets would fall by seven per cent between 2016 and 2021. My estimate is that the £1.3 billion, even if it had all been new money, would reduce the cut to between four and five per cent - and since it's not new money, the reduction will be even less.

Add to this the redistributive effect of the National Funding Formula; and as I've said before, any redistribution, however well-intentioned and however fair, leads to winners and losers. So, if the average real-terms cut is five per cent some schools will be even worse off.

John Freeman is a former DCS and chair of the ADCS Associates Network. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website

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