16 Dec 2014
The wheels are coming off the coalition as it rattles towards the May election (that's the month, not the name of the next PM - though who knows...?) as each party desperately bites the back of the other.
Laws (Lib Dem schools minister) claims that the Tories are intending to cut £13.3bn from schools budgets after the next election. The Tories themselves are saying nothing - but they noticeably aren't saying that they'll protect education funding as they are saying they will for health - which is a much bigger vote winner. This silence is deafening and Laws' estimate indicates the extent of the trouble ahead.
Nicky Morgan recently insisted she would be making the case for the ring-fencing of schools spending, but it seems impossibly unlikely, given her lightweight position in the cabinet, that she'll be making it very strongly, nor will she achieve much success.
Many schools are already struggling with deficit budgets, thanks to unfunded pay awards and stagnation or withdrawal of funding streams. Some schools tell us they are freezing teacher pay - disregarding the recommendations of the pay review body, which the government glibly accepted, knowing that it would be up to schools/academies to meet the pay demands themselves.
Now, though, Laws is suggesting that the Tories are intending to cut schools funding by almost a quarter. Yes, that's the figure: almost a quarter. If this happens, schools simply will not be able operate, except by dramatically cutting staffing levels.
First against the wall are likely to be teaching assistants (high expense, low effect, according to the EEF), but expensive departing teachers will also be replaced by NQTs (good news for new teachers looking for their first post, at least) and any spare capacity will be trimmed. While it seems unlikely that there will be widespread redundancies in the next year, there is certainly a threat of that if these cuts are implemented. In the meantime, schools are likely to freeze pay - by not implementing the recommended pay increases.
But there is a silver lining at the end of the tunnel, which secondary schools seem to have missed when it was announced at the end of last academic year: extra funding for schools with students achieving four or more grade Bs at A-level. £400 for every student gaining four, £800 for five. Schools will be falling over themselves to push their students to earn them £400*. On second thoughts, maybe schools didn't miss this announcement, maybe it was just lost in the morass of trivia that comes via the DfE press machine. Talking of which, maybe the government could make some savings there.
Anyway, assuming the silver lining isn't going to be melted down to shore up crumbling budgets, it's time for schools to start tightening their belts in preparation for when the ship hits the fan.
(No apologies for the number of mixed metaphors in this post - sometimes it just has to be done)
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