I have been a teacher for 26 years, a Headteacher for 11 years and, at the age of 50 this much I (DON’T) know about why Education is not on the General Election agenda.
Remember 1997? In his latest book Alistair Campbell recalls that back then education was [New Labour’s] number one priority. Those were the days, eh? None of the main political parties seems to be talking too much about education this time around.


Remember October 2010? That month is memorable for me for George Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review where he announced cuts to the state sector of £81 billion. The implication for us was a real terms cut of £700,000 in funding over four years. As Jim Royle would say, Ring-fenced my a**e.  Should we have done nothing at that time, by 2012-13 we would have had a deficit of £1,082,607. Instead, at the end of 2013 we had a £236,524 surplus. Instead of survive in austere times, we chose to thrive in austere times. Over the last four and a half years, amongst many other things, this is what we did:

  • I asked every single one of our teachers to increase his or her teaching time by an hour a week, which they all did without a murmur of protest;
  • Cut departmental capitation by 7% p.a;
  • Cut the number of TAs by 2 FTE;
  • Cut the number of administration staff by 2 FTE;
  • Cut the number of Technicians by 1 FTE;
  • Cut the number of teachers by 5 FTE;
  • Made it clear to the caretakers that they had to complete buildings maintenance jobs in-house in order to save their own salaries, which they have done;
  • Saved £16,000 p.a. on payroll and Human Resources services;
  • Saved £30,000 p.a. on cleaning services;
  • Raised £10,000 p.a. on our Community Sports services;
  • Grew Friends of Huntington School, York which has raised £3,000 p.a.

And over that time we endured a demographic dip which saw our student numbers fall from 1,526 to 1,434. But due to the diligence of everyone who makes Huntington School what it is, our results have improved dramatically during those austere years. We have thrived, not just survived. A local commentator said that Huntington has, Worked magic with their budget.
And now in April 2015, we have just calculated that our 2014-15 carry-forward is in the region of a £240,000 surplus. But that is where the magic looks like ending. Lord Nash announced at the Independent Academies Association’s autumn conference that school leaders are going to have…to cut their cloth to drive efficiencies…schools will increasingly have to do more with the same moneyGiven the state of the public finances we have inherited, this government has done pretty well to protect the schools budget, but I’m afraid that whichever party wins the next election there will be further cuts in the public sector. Irrespective of who wins the General Election, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has predicted a cut in schools spending of between 7% and 12%, with the latter the most likely figure. Over the next four years schools are going to lose £1 in every £8 we currently have to spend. And the cuts we have made over the last four years mean we are not quite sure how we are going to continue to thrive. There may be some London schools which don’t know how to spend their huge surpluses, but every Headteacher I have spoken to recently has little idea how to balance the budget over the next few years. I work in an affluent city but York is ranked 148th out of 150 Local Authorities for education spending. In 2013-14 we received £4,659 per student whilst the National Median for Secondary Schools with KS4 is £5,904. It is hard to balance the budget now, especially when your recurrent capital grant was cut by 82% four years ago (from £160,000 p.a. to £28,000 p.a.) and you need to ring-fence old money as Pupil Premium funding.
Thursday 30 April is the date of the final BBC Question Time before the General Election when the three main political leaders, Cameron, Miliband and Clegg will answer questions from a live TV audience in Leeds. If my application to be in that audience this Thursday is successful, I want to ask each one of them about school funding. I don’t want to hear about all the money that has been spent on Free Schools and Academy conversions which has inflated education spending, because, on the ground, I know much better than them the current state of school funding; rather, I want to know how on earth, over the next five years, they think my Headteacher colleagues across the country and I will be able to run our schools on the budget levels their manifestos are pledging. Or are they not talking about Education because the funding scenario for our schools is so bleak? If so, students, parents, teachers, Headteachers and Governors need to know.

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This post has 10 Comments

  1. It is clear where all this is going. Increasingly schools will be dependent upon charity and fundraising by parents and staff. Thus it is in large parts of the US.
    The children of the poor will have to fight harder to qualify to go to university and pay the tax on the poor which is tuition fees.
    Such is life.

  2. Moving Gove was an intensely political move to keep education off the agenda. I presume that cuts of 10-11% – from either Labour or the Tories (see Sam Freedman’s calculations for the detail), mean that they’re both happy to not talk about it.
    The sight of Tristram Hunt not sure what he stands for, and Nicky Morgan with the brief to just not make waves or get in the headlines means that it’s important that we illustrate this funding crisis loud and clear. We are in for a tough time.
    I also have some sympathy with authorities like yours, and Cambridgeshire and others, where funding is already tight. I heard something from a head recently that said that some of the least well-funded authorities might be protected from the most savage of cuts next time, but that might also be nonsense.

  3. I’m surprised you didn’t realise that by cutting staff numbers you proved that you can thrive on less income. So less income is what you will receive. You will have to put your teaching staff on zero hour contracts soon, isn’t that the logical outcome? A dive to the bottom is what Headteachers are involved in, welcome to the harsh world of reality.

    1. Oh Steve, I’m more than aware of that irony, believe me…but I’m not in charge of a plastic grommet company, I’m in charge of a school, with children’s lives at stake, and I cannot afford to run things down and be less effective as the cuts impact, can I? As an Economics A level teacher, I “get” the whole scenario.

      1. I don’t get the plastic grommet company analogy, but then I didn’t study Economics. I am naive enough to suggest that if Headteachers keep cutting teaching and support staff (with less pension and more hours for those left) the good ones will leave in droves. How will that affect students and the quality of education?
        Tesco are failing, John Lewis are thriving. That’s my example from the retail industry. You can use that in your economics class, no consultation fee required. 🙂

  4. The question to ask is “Did Cameron and Clegg promise a top down re-organization of the NHS before the last election”. Well, he is not promising a top down re-organization of education this time, but I think we are going to get it!
    A three tier system with public schools, business run academies (state funded and state bail-outs) and state schools (12% cuts?). I think we all know which sector will be chronically underfunded for the next five years. Maybe I’ll move my kids from York to Scotland!

  5. I wish you luck with Question Time John. I hope that you get to raise your question. [Lack of] future funding is clearly the huge elephant in the room and the reason why education is off the election agenda. Mentioning said education elephant to politicians is rather like waving ammonia under their noses. Pained expression. No party wants to stick their neck out and define what ‘cuts’ actually means – although we know that whoever is in power after May it will be in the region of 10%. Lean times ahead particularly as nationally we are facing a 6000 short fall in trainee teachers.

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