Executive Leader Cllr Kieran Quinn

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Councillor Kieran Quinn, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

School Funding in Crisis

Friday, 06 October 2017

Imagine that one day your local school just closed. Permanently. No warning, no notification, no nothing. It simply ran out of money and had to shut up shop. Could you imagine the chaos that it would cause? Not just for the children whose education would be seriously disrupted, but for the parents who would have to pick up the pieces and the teachers who would find their employment in jeopardy.

Unfortunately, it’s become more than a hypothetical question. For as many as a third of state schools across the country it is now a very real possibility.

Regular readers of my blog will know that school funding is an issue that I’ve raised the alarm on in the past. In Tameside, we’re facing the prospect of a £11.5 million cut in our school funding by 2019. The government’s insistence on blowing hundreds of millions on ideological vanity projects like free schools hasn’t helped either, particularly since many of them, in Manchester and elsewhere, have a record of consistent and spectacular failure that would never have been tolerated in the state school sector.    

Now the chickens are coming home to roost. That’s the word from the government’s own figures anyway. Released after a Parliamentary Question on the matter, they show that more than 9,000 schools in England faced a budget deficit last year. Of those schools, 4,000 have reported deficits for two years in a row, while 1,600, 400 and 100 schools are dealing with sustained funding shortfalls of 3, 4 and 5 years respectively. So, while it’s true that in some cases a deficit could just be a one-off (perhaps as a result of capital spending or just having “a bad year”) it’s now very clear that for many schools it has become a disturbing and worsening trend.

It’s more than abstract figures on a balance sheet as well. Budget deficits have a very real impact on schools and their ability to educate our children. They mean increased class sizes. They mean reducing the number of subjects on offer. They mean cutting staff, non-teaching and teaching alike. They mean having to forgo basic maintenance on school buildings. We’re even seeing cases in Cheshire East and West Sussex where schools are seriously considering moving to a four and a half day week, or even a four day week, in a last-ditch attempt to cut costs.

The situation has gotten so desperate that even the government has finally acknowledged the mess. Unfortunately, they still seem to be deluding themselves about the scale of it. The £1.3 billion of additional funding they’ve promised isn’t new money; it’s taken from other parts of the education budget. They don’t seem to realise that moving money from one part of the system to another doesn’t work when there’s not enough money in the system in the first place. We need to start talking about real solutions and real money. Not billions, but tens of billions. That might sound like a lot, but it’s what is needed to plug the gaps from seven years of neglect and put our schools on a sustainable footing to handle future demand.

Education changes live. A good education can give young people the knowledge and confidence to succeed, regardless of where they started from. A bad education, on the other hand, can hold them back in ways that will be felt decades after they leave the classroom. The time for platitudes and sticking plasters is over. Anything less than bold and decisive action is not just failing our children, it is failing them during one of the most important periods of their lives. We can, and we must, do better.

Posted by: Executive Leader


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