Theresa May’s Conservative Government is continuing to ignore the problems facing most schools in England over their funding in the coming months.
Nationalising school funding was never a sensible idea. Schools were funded more generously and more fairly when the money came from local government. There were claims then that the funding was not sufficient, but schools had the opportunity to lobby their local councillors and in many cases this led to some extra money being allocated.
A national funding formula was never a good idea. As a result of it almost all schools are now finding themselves much worse off. Educational standards are likely to fall as a result.
In 2018 the Government is planning to introduce a new national funding formula. Ministers claim this will address the present discrepancies in school funding between different geographical areas by using a new method to distribute money.
However, this will be done by redistributing money from a total pot that is shrinking in real terms. Forty-nine per cent of the schools in England will have less cash, with more than two million children being affected. Over 70 per cent of the schools in cities will lose money.
If the Government’s plans are implemented, schools in deprived areas will suffer most. But schools in more affluent areas will also be adversely affected as class numbers rise as a consequence of the increased birth rate.
Teaching unions claim that 98 per cent of schools in England will lose considerable funding over the lifetime of the current Parliament. Schools in Luton, Coventry, Nottingham, Bristol, Birmingham Manchester and Southend will be among the 20 biggest losers in the country.
British universities are already facing problems as a result of Brexit. There is a downturn in applications from European Union students and the numbers of Asian students have fallen sharply. Overseas students are increasingly seen as an immigration problem rather than an economic asset.
Karan Bilimoria, the Indian-born Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, has referred to “an anti-immigrant backlash” following the Brexit referendum.
Disputes over student visas could see UK universities losing numerous overseas students. Many are already choosing to go to Australia, Canada or other EU countries. Meanwhile, recent figures published show that almost 20 per cent of academic staff in UK universities are from EU countries excluding Britain.
Further education continues to be hit by cuts. Amalgamations of FE colleges have increased, resulting in a loss of experienced staff. FE plays an important role in vocational education but its capacity for doing so is being curtailed by Government’s policies.
Employers have mounting difficulties in maintaining skilled workforces, since these need regular refresher courses. The Conservatives’ education and training policy is widely regarded as a failure. The promise of extra funding for apprenticeships is welcome but it is not clear how this is to be distributed or what vocational courses would be funded.
The proposal by the Government to introduce more Grammar schools is a further move away from an Education system for all which raises standards in all schools and which are funded fairly and adequately.
Where is the Labour Party’s voice on this? Parents, if properly informed, could punish the Tories for failing to finance many schools adequately at a time when education is so important in a fast-changing world.
Labour should be developing proposals for a fair and better way of funding the nation’s schools. It needs a different vision for the skills agenda.
Silence tends not to win elections. We need a public demonstration on education like the one held in London recently in support of the NHS.
Graham Lane is a former chair of the Local Government Association’s