School funding 'must rise' by £5.7bn, Yorkshire education leader warns

Damian Hinds
Damian Hinds
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School funding must rise by £5.7bn to give every child the education they deserve, the Education Secretary is told, amid concern from senior leaders over the impact of deep cuts.

Richard Sheriff, president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and chief executive of one of Yorkshire’s largest multi-academy trusts, has warned in his speech to the association’s annual conference over the challenge faced by the nation’s schools.

On the current trajectory, he said, schools across England will either have to make “more unpalatable cuts” to the curriculum or face insolvency, he claimed.

“This is not a scenario which is acceptable to anyone – schools, parents, communities or Government,” he said.

“Now is the time to work constructively together to provide a realistic settlement which assures the quality of education that the public expects.”

A new report from ASCL, The True Cost of Education, examines the schools budget for pupils aged five to 16.

It suggests schools would need £40.2bn in funding for the next academic year, compared to a Government allocation of £34.5bn.

School funding per pupil has fallen by eight per cent in real terms over the past eight years, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

In response to questions over the impact of shortfalls faced by schools in England, Mr Sheriff said settings were already making cuts.

“Schools have had to reduce staffing which means larger classes, less one-to-one and small-group support for pupils with additional needs, and cuts to the curriculum,” he said.

“Subjects such as creative arts and modern foreign languages are particularly vulnerable because groups tend to be smaller and are therefore difficult to sustain financially.

“You drop those where you have got smaller classes, particularly in option subjects at Key Stage 4. So, you don’t run music, you don’t run languages, technology subjects.

“These are the changes we are making, and certainly some areas of the curriculum are far too expensive to deliver.

“It is not an attack on the arts because we don’t think that art is important, we just know that art is expensive.

“Having a music group and a drama group – class sizes one to 15, we just can’t afford it.”

Angry parents had gathered outside the ICC in Birmingham where the conference was held, ahead of the arrival of the Education Secretary to yesterday’s event.

As he took to the stage, Damian Hinds said he has heard the message on funding “loud and clear”.

“I understand the real concerns on funding,” he said. “I get that finances are challenging for schools and that many of you have had to make, and are having to make, very hard choices.

“I know that rising costs from suppliers to supply agencies add to these pressures, alongside the particular pressures in high needs.”

He told more than 1,000 school leaders gathered at the conference he would use the upcoming Spending Review to make the “strongest possible case” for education to the Treasury.

Mr Hinds continued: “For me it is not only a moral argument about our priorities, although that can’t be overstated.

“Also from a hard-headed point of view, for a strong highly-skilled and productive economy, clearly we need the right level of investment in our schools.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “School funding in England is at its highest ever level and since 2017 the Government has given every local authority in England more money for every pupil in every school – allocating the biggest increases to the schools that have been most underfunded – and in the last year we have also announced an extra £400m of capital funding for schools from the Treasury.

“As the Chancellor set out this week, school funding will be considered as part of a full three-year Spending Review before the summer recess.

“We will be working closely with the Treasury throughout that process.”