11 June 2015

Regardless of your political viewpoint, education was never going to be a big winner in the aftermath of the General Election. With immigration and the economy dominating manifestos, it was a far cry from ‘education, education, education’. What will this mean for schools and teachers? With neither Labour nor the Conservatives promising to maintain school budgets per child in real terms, schools are looking at budget cuts and I’ll be discussing the ramifications.

The interesting thing about education policy is that it seems to be very teacher-focused, by which I mean that there is a lot of discussion concerning ‘attracting top graduates to the profession’, but this seems to mean incentives from government rather than simply allocating enough money to schools. Simply put, teacher salaries will continue to increase, while school budgets are expected to decrease by up to 12% in real terms per pupil over the next five years. Since pupil numbers and teachers required are currently very strongly correlated (for obvious reasons), this leads to a number of options for schools:

  1. Don’t allow your staff to move up the pay scale. Pay scale increases will continue, but performance related pay makes it easier to deny progression. There seems to be no provision for the accelerated progression for highly skilled teachers, making this a potential money saver for Principals and Head Teachers.

  2. Increase class sizes. This is actually my preferred option. There are several studies that show zero correlation between class sizes and attainment and while it does increase the demands placed on teachers (more marking, more behavioural issues to deal with etc.) I still think that it’s a way to save money that isn’t certain to lower standards.

  3. Cut support staff and non-teaching staff in schools. Many of these staff are a vital part of children’s education and as teachers we don’t want to lose them.

  4. Make your teachers teach for longer. This is the most likely scenario in my opinion. Nicky Morgan talks at length about reducing teacher workloads, but she is also fond of devolving powers to Academies, and this looks like the obvious solution to budgetary issues. However, the current trend of lengthening the school day might eliminate the benefits as all of teachers’ extra hours might go into the additional classes that students require after 4pm.

  5. Find additional revenue streams. I find this particularly interesting, and worrying. It’s unsettling to imagine teachers diverting their attention from their students’ learning to worry about other projects run to make up the gaps in schools’ budget. I hear stories of schools employing staff whose sole responsibility is to obtain grants and run the non-educational aspects of schools. Perhaps using their sports halls as cheap leisure centres, hosting Saturday schools and summer schools on their premises, there are a multitude of ways that a school can earn extra income from their premises. This seems fine until you imagine a large Academy chain doing this so effectively that Government uses their success to justify cutting budgets further. Smaller schools without the resources to run these projects will then suffer even further, necessitating ever more ruthless application of options one, two or three.

All of the above will take place, to varying extents. The effect this has on us as teachers, or on our students, remains to be seen. What is certain is that cuts in budgets per pupil in real terms are always going to be detrimental to our country. Good quality education is the only guaranteed way to combat inequality and ensure a strong economy in years to come. Cuts to education are politically short-sighted and we all need to ensure that school budgets are a major part of the debate again in 2020.

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