Leaked Tory education plans fall far short of what’s needed

Boris Johnson’s pledge currently falls £8bn short of what is needed to properly fund our schools.

A leaked Department for Education document has outlined the government’s proposed plans for education. It seems Boris Johnson and his party still do not understand the full scale of the crisis facing schools. 

Clearly we need to see what actually is announced in next month’s Comprehensive Spending Review. Any extra money – £3.5bn, according to reports – for schools will be welcome. They are desperate for funding. The problem is this just isn’t enough. It will not make enough of a difference to counteract the scale of funding cuts that schools have already experienced.

The School Cuts campaign has shown how 91% of schools have lost funding since 2015. If we are to restore cuts already made, and cope with the extra costs put on schools and the increase in pupil numbers, we need additional revenue rising to £12.6bn per year by 2022/23.

Alongside other unions and fair funding campaigns, we have proposed a phased way of increasing to that figure per year. Anything less sets a course for continuing real-terms cuts in schools and colleges. Boris Johnson’s pledge currently falls £8bn short of our target.

And unless this is part of a programme for reversing the cuts as well as coping with future costs and pupil increases, then this is just pre-election campaigning.

Our phased increase would have seen another £3bn for schools this September, and a further £3.4bn for April 2020. The government is promising nothing like that amount and has made no promises for the phased increase that our coalition has demanded.

Efforts to portray this severe short-changing as an electoral winner will continue to be challenged robustly by the National Education Union.

The discipline debate

We do need good discipline in schools, and there are effective strategies to achieve that. Teachers and school staff are already able to use ‘reasonable restraint’, but the leaked proposals of ‘reasonable force’ implies additional kinds of physical contact.

This seems dangerously open to interpretation – what one person considers to be ‘reasonable’ another person may not. We don’t want teachers exercising reasonable force – we want well-disciplined schools which are well funded.

Exclusion is a sometimes necessary, unfortunate option that a school and a school leader must be able to take. The danger with giving a broad green light to exclusion – as these plans propose – is that children who already need education the most are most likely to be denied it.

Suggestions of cutting teaching assistants is further proof of how out of touch the government is. TAs play an essential role in the classroom and school. Schools have already been forced to reduce staffing because of real-terms cuts, and it is a clear demonstration of how far the cuts bite that 59% of our support staff members report having do work that should properly be undertaken by teachers. They are seen as the cheap option, and without serious investment they will continue to be exploited.

Blinkered Boris

The government must invest in all schools and colleges across the country and give councils the powers they need to open schools where there is genuine need for new places.

Instead, it seems they intend to throw more public money at their failed and discredited free school programme. They need to restore the real terms value of teachers’ pay and remove the excessive workload and accountability burdens that are driving teachers out of the profession.

Our schools and colleges need to be funded to ensure every child and young person gets the education they deserve. Headteachers need to have the money to ensure schools can be repaired when needed, sufficient materials and resources are available for students, a full range of subjects are on offer and every school and college can afford to pay for the correct amount of teachers, teaching assistants and school staff required. 

Surely that’s not too much to ask of a modern education system?

Dr Mary Bousted is joint general secretary of the National Education Union.

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