Last week I put my name to a motion put forward by North East Labour MPs on the future of school funding in the North East, after the publication of a report which cast serious doubts on the financial sustainability of schools in our area.
The motion came about following an independent report by the National Audit Office (NAO), finding that schools across England will need to make cutbacks of £3 billion by the year 2020 to cope with increasing costs.
This will be the first real terms cut in spending on schools since the 1990s.
The National Union of Teachers has estimated that in our region the savings required, around £119 million, would be equivalent to the loss of 3,203 teachers.
According to the report, the Department for Education has not given schools any clear idea of how these savings should be made, or communicated to schools the scale and pace of what they are asking for.
The NAO therefore warns that education standards face “significant risks” from the uncertainty this has caused and recommended close monitoring due to the danger that schools could make decisions that put educational outcomes at risk.
This funding gap has emerged due to a variety of factors, including changes in the Government’s new funding formula, cuts outlined in the 2015 budget and especially the effect of inflation on school costs.
While the level of Government spending on schools as a whole has been protected, funding per-pupil has not and is therefore failing to keep pace with increasing numbers of pupils.
This means that at a time when schools should ideally be recruiting more teachers to cope with that increase, they will instead be forced to make cutbacks on staffing, resulting in increases in class sizes.
We would also be likely to see reductions in support for children with special needs and the possibility of some subjects being dropped from the curriculum entirely.
I think what all of this shows is that the Government’s financial planning for the future of our education system simply isn’t good enough.
The NHS is in a period of crisis at the moment because its funding has failed to keep pace with increased demand; what the NAO’s report highlights is the prospect of our schools facing a similar crisis by 2020 if nothing changes. The Government needs to take action now to avoid this.
In the near future schools in Hartlepool and the wider region will either have to make painful cuts that will damage the future of our next generation, or the Government will have to act to ensure the financial viability of schools going forward. I and the other MPs who have put forward this motion are asking that they do the latter.