The widely heralded increase in the schools budget is, it turns out, not what it at first seemed. The Financial Times this weekend (30th/31st October) spelt out the reality behind the rise.
The resource budget, which is used to fund day-to-day running costs will, it appears, rise by 0.4 %. However, the increase in the numbers of pupils means that the ‘rise’ will turn into a cut of 2.25%. The number of primary school age children is set to rise by 8% over the next four years, while the school population as a whole is predicted to rise by 2.7% overall.
Of the £39 billion allocated to individual schools for day-to-day spending in 2014-2015, £2.5 billion is a ‘pupil premium’. The pupil premium is defined by the FT as ‘money given to schools for each pupil who is eligible to receive free school meals, a widely-used indicator of poverty’. For a school to avoid losing money it would need to have more than a fifth of its pupils claiming free school meals. As the FT makes clear, at the average primary school only 17% of pupils are eligible. By this reckoning, the FT calculates that ‘62% of primary school children are in schools that will not meet that bar, and whose budgets will be cut in real terms’.
In the secondary sector, in order to receive the pupil premium, a school would have to have around 25% of its pupils on free school meals to maintain increased funding. At present, the average percentage of pupils receiving free school meals is only 14%, which, the FT suggests, will mean that ‘84% of secondary pupils are in schools that will experience cuts in real terms’.
In addition, as has been made more transparent, the schools building budget has been cut by 60%.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has already confirmed that the FT’s analysis accords with its own.
What’s the broad message from all this? As the FT puts it:
‘Most schools will see cuts in funding per pupil over the next four years, with secondary schools more likely to see cuts than primary schools. Some schools with more deprived pupils could see increases in funding per pupil, depending on how the pupil premium is implemented.’
When I went to see Nick Gibb, the schools minster, at the House of Commons around this time last year, he hinted that were the Conservative Party to win the election, money would be made available in the form of a voucher system for schools to use to train teachers to teach phonics. One of the easiest ways of improving the educational chances of pupils in this country is to teach them to read and spell to a level that will enable them to reach their full potential, whatever that potential might be. There can be no doubt that all pupils can taught to read well enough for them to be able to access the full secondary curriculum. But, to achieve this means investing in training the teachers properly. It cannot be done by sticking a manual or handbook in the post and expecting teachers and teaching assistants to get on with it.
Like I said, it’s the training, stupid!