I am deeply disappointed with the ‘non-reply, reply’ from a Government minister to my letter asking about cuts in funding for schools across Oldham.
In May 2016 I met with Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP, alongside my colleagues, Jim McMahon MP and Angela Rayner MP, to discuss the many challenges facing schools in Oldham and the findings of the Oldham Education Commission. But since then the Government has made proposals to change the school Funding Formula which will see deep cuts to school funding in our constituencies of 10% per pupil between 2015/16 to 2019/20.
The new formula will see income per pupil in Oldham East and Saddleworth, for example, cut by a massive £490 per pupil by 2019/20. Further cuts to the school budget and the new Funding Formula are going to put our schools into an even more difficult position than the one they are already facing.
Because these cuts will be so damaging to schools across Oldham I wrote to the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, pointing out that the Conservative Manifesto in 2015 stated: “Under a future Conservative Government, the amount of money following your child into school will be protected.” But in reality, the maintenance of per pupil funding in cash terms has not been realised in 38 of 49 schools in Oldham East and Saddleworth alone.
The failure to protect the schools budget in real terms means that a number of inflationary and cost pressures will cause real terms cuts to the schools budget for the first time in two decades.
In my letter to Ms Greening I pointed out that the Office for Budget Responsibility has predicted inflation will rise sharply in the coming years. And that this, combined with increased employer national insurance contributions, the impact of the apprenticeship levy, and the rising minimum wage, will amount to an 8% cut in per pupil spending by 2019-20 according to the National Audit Office, the same figure given by the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies.
I explained how concerned I am that despite claims that the new National Funding Formula will ‘level the playing field’ it will do nothing of the sort; instead making the playing field more unequal with schools seeing further cuts to their already struggling budgets, meaning spending per-pupil will fall, hindering their ability to reach their potential.
Unfortunately the response I received to my letter was deeply disappointing and did absolutely nothing to address the specific concerns I raised about the effect of the cuts on schools in Oldham. In fact I would go so far as to say it was a non-reply, reply.
Firstly the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, delegated the response back down to Schools Minister Nick Gibb who proceeded to avoid answering the issue around how much Oldham schools would lose due to the proposed new formula. Instead, he preferred to detail how the Government have set an ambition to save at least £1bn from schools in non-staffing costs by 2019-2020. And to add insult to injury he sent his reply on 21st March which included information about a public consultation on the new formula which ended on 22nd March.
I believe that every child deserves the best possible start in life, and that an excellent education is fundamental to this. These unashamed Tory cuts to schools’ budget will mean that, for many children, this is simply not possible.
The new National Funding Formula will make it extremely difficult for schools to not only meet the increased demand of pupil numbers increasing but also to address the growing crisis in teacher recruitment and retention.
Many schools are already reporting losing staff as a result of these funding cuts, and cuts to staff are falling heavily on those in support roles. This will make it all but impossible for the Government to deliver on key pledges, including that all secondary schools should have staff trained to help address the mental health needs of pupils.
What’s worse is the Government clearly have no co-herent plan to deliver this against a background of funding cuts and teaching staff shortages across the UK.