Our education system is teetering on the edge of a significant crisis. The policies of this current government have left schools in a dangerous place financially, having to reduce what they are able to provide for children year after year. Over the last three budgets, my primary school’s budget only increased by 1%. As our school roll increased during this time, our budget allocation per pupil increased by less than 1%. Teaching staff occupy around 48% of our budget, and their salary increases on average by around 6% each year due to national living wage, pension, national insurance, pay scales, incremental increases, and inflation. Support staff costs increase on average by 8% each year.
This all means that just looking at staff, our budget would have needed to increase by £103k to cover costs, when in fact it only increased by £17k. Add to this an apprenticeship scheme costing £6k, being forced to manage our own building maintenance and indemnity, and the value of the pound rising costs of resources and trips – and the promised budget increase of £42k through the fairer funding scheme is far too little too late. In order to balance our books we’ve had to make redundancies of staff, reduce support to children, reduce budget for resources, and even stop providing all children at school with free fruit.
The finances are probably the biggest threat to education at the moment, but it isn’t the only threat. Good teachers are leaving the profession en masse, as curriculum and assessment policy changes (plus budget pressures) have increased pressure beyond many are willing to cope with. Newly qualified teachers are not staying in the industry as the gap between their training and the hellish pressure within actual teaching is a gap too large for many to leap.
The increase of expectations within this government’s curriculum policy has also reduced the ability of children from less well-off backgrounds to engage with education because their progress depends on them living in environments that add to and support their education, like in increasing their knowledge of vocabulary. In order to meet the demands of the curriculum, teachers have had to reduce the amount of time teaching in more creative and fun ways, as well as not being able to teach subjects that children in other contexts would be getting at their home. This can surely only lead to the gap between the rich and poor in our country growing even more.
Behind all the talk of funding increases is a real terms cut. Many schools are having to find ways to generate income in order to balance the books. Making this a 'Brexit' election threatens to mask the huge issues in other parts of our society. We need to examine everything, not just who we want sitting at the table with the EU negotiators.