Money, money, money

Written by: Deborah Lawson | Published:
Deborah Lawson, general secretary, Voice

The voices are growing louder still – when will the education secretary act to fund education properly and to address the legacy of austerity, asks Deborah Lawson...

The saying that “(the love of) money is the root of all evil” is something of a cliché, but money – or rather the lack of it – is at the root of the various crises impacting our education service.

At the time of writing, we are waiting for the again-delayed publication of the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) report on pay and conditions.

It remains to be seen what the consequence of the announcement of the additional cash injection for the NHS will be on education funding – and the government’s response to the STRB report – and if that commitment further reduces or eliminates education funding growth.

There is welcome recognition from the House of Commons Education Select Committee that “rising cost pressures faced by schools, sixth form and further education colleges have led to serious challenges in the provision of high-quality education”. These pressures are also having a devastating impact on SEND provision.

While the National Funding Formula (NFF) was a welcome reform – with its intention of removing historic funding allocations to better reflect current pupil and school needs – it produced winners and losers.

Additional funding was not a feature and in essence it cut the same funding pie differently, when what is needed is actually a bigger pie.

Schools are constantly reviewing and restructuring to cut costs. Having cut all other expenditure to the bone, they are faced with the unpalatable prospect of making teachers and support staff redundant or reducing their hours, and/or cutting non-EBacc subjects from the curriculum – a case of spending leading the curriculum instead of the curriculum leading spending.

Such actions may reduce or prevent a deficit, but the loss of valuable staff members is a false economy that will only increase class sizes and teacher workload and, along with a diminished curriculum, reduce access to, and opportunities to provide, learning, and so social mobility. School leaders and governing bodies are in unenviable situations.

The government has, somewhat belatedly, recognised the teacher recruitment and retention crisis and is driving positive initiatives to reverse it. It is recognised that shiny adverts in the press, social media and television on their own do not change the image of teaching or make it an attractive and fulfilling career. But the reasons for the crisis are complex, with pay and funding being only two of the factors we know are driving teachers from the profession.

Voice has called for a significant pay increase to begin to address the decline in teachers’ real pay over the last seven years, as levels have fallen behind that of other graduate professions.

After years of austerity, it is time for teachers’ and school leaders’ pay to reflect the value of their work, and the importance of the teaching profession to both education and the country.

However, it is vital that any pay increases are fully funded by the government so schools can afford to recruit and retain the teachers and headteachers they need.

There is some hope on the horizon. It is apparent from recent announcements by the education secretary that he is listening and that teacher recruitment and retention and reducing workload are his key focus. He has recognised that funding is “people’s number one issue”, even though his ability to match that understanding with hard cash is constrained by the Treasury.

The vision of the Education Select Committee is also a cause for optimism. As Robert Halfon MP, its chair, rightly said: “Young people are in compulsory education for around 13 years, yet government only plans investment in education every three or four years.

“We need to move to a situation where education funding is not driven primarily by Treasury processes but rather by a long-term strategic assessment of our national priorities for education and skills.

“It is not only the NHS that requires a new approach and strategy for funding, the same is true of education and it is to be hoped that the Education Select Committee can help to make the case for a similar plan for expenditure on our schools and colleges.”

Vital though the NHS is, a properly funded and staffed national education service is even more fundamentally important. Without early years, primary, secondary and tertiary education, there would be no doctors or nurses, or indeed any members of any trade or profession.

Although money might make the world go round – and education needs money – as Damian Hinds put it, “ultimately, education is all about people”.

Voice will continue to press the government to fund education properly and fairly to address the legacy of austerity. 

  • Deborah Lawson is general secretary of Voice.


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