Whilst walking my dog this morning I took this photograph of a rainbow. Ironically, considering the fact it has been in the local and even national news this week, the rainbow is arching over our local secondary school, Penistone Grammar School (it isn’t a grammar school – it just hasn’t lost the ‘grammar’ from its title).
I thought the idea of a rainbow over the school particularly ironic as it is currently in the news as a prime example of inequalities in school funding that has been endemic for years and the particular funding crisis hitting all schools at the moment and which is being widely covered in the news currently. A rainbow has strong symbolism for the promise that troubles today will surely pass and that if we hold our faith, new beginnings and prosperity will surely arrive. As I will expand on in this post, because of the ideologically driven government we currently have and the totally inept and ineffective opposition, I very much doubt this omen will come to pass.
Penistone is the poorest funded secondary school in one of the poorest funded local authorities (Barnsley) in England. Barnsley also happens to be one the most socially deprived boroughs in England also. All in all this means the current budget deficit for Penistone school is £300k and is rising by about £1000 per day. Penistone bucks the trend for secondary schools in Barnsley as it has excellent exam results (it has a progress 8 score of 0.09 – very slightly above national average – and 82% of their pupils gained at least 5 A*-C grades including English and mathematics in 2016). It must also be said that Penistone is a more rural and affluent area in comparison to the rest of Barnsley and whilst it has pockets of deep deprivation it doesn’t have the levels of deprivation seen in other parts of the borough. I’ve highlighted the massive inequality in spending between Yorkshire schools and those in London in previous posts but this week has definitely brought this issue to a head.
The government, whatever you say and whatever evidence you present them, will say they have ‘protected school funding and introduced the pupil premium to help disadvantaged students’. Technically speaking this is true. However the real truth is that the funding per pupil up to the age of 16 has not decreased – or increased to cover rising costs. Using the same pot of money they’ve had since about 2010, schools have had to fund themselves increased national insurance and pension contributions, the meager and below inflation pay rises for teachers (we’ve managed to fund inflation busting pay increases for our elected MPs – so thats ok), the increased costs of fuel and other expenses. In real terms the funding per pupil has decreased significantly since 2010. On top of this schools with sixth forms (such as Penistone) as well as further education institutes have been hit by actual cuts to funding per pupil for students over 16. Put this together and you can now understand why schools are struggling. If schools had contingency funds prior to 2010 I guarantee these have all been used up now. All this has contributed to schools being in the invidious position of making teachers redundant, narrowing the curriculum because they cannot afford to run some subjects and asking parents for handouts – at a time when the government are enforcing new GCSE and A level curricula which mean increased costs in providing adequate text books and resources to cover these new specifications. Penistone is not alone in having gone past cutting to the bone. Many schools, like Penistone are now deep into the marrow.
The government will hail the ‘fair-funding formula’ they are consulting on. In reality – if this happens (and it is only at its consultation phase as I write this) – this may mean a small increase for schools like Penistone in a few years. Penistone and other schools cannot wait a few years – they need this money now. What fair funding really means is spreading the same pot ever so slightly thinner for those schools who have done OK in the past and ever so slightly thicker for those who did badly. It is effectively a zero-sum game – schools will have to suffer so others don’t suffer as much. This is the brutal world of austerity capitalism in Tory Britain.
All this in a week when the government can announce an extra £320m for free schools and grammar schools and stash £60bn (yes BILLION) away to cover ‘unforeseen expenses of Brexit’ yet not find one extra penny to help schools in this monstrous position. I truly believe this government’s attitude to the funding of education for its young people is a disgrace and a crime. What is also a crime is the fact they know they can get away with it because the official opposition has essentially absolved itself of any pretense of opposition. The Labour party offer no real opposition and no real policies to solve the crisis in education in this country. They are an irrelevance.
The success of London schools should highlight what decent funding and a collaborative approach to school leadership and improvement can do. London schools used to be the basket case in England and are now the leaders in the league tables. Instead of spreading the same pot a different way, ALL schools should be funded like they are in London. NO school should lose money. EVERY school should get real terms rises to cover rises in staffing and other inflationary items. For those who say where are we to get this money from I present two things. A £60bn pot doing nothing but waiting for the effects of Brexit – well one thing we will definitely need to make good Brexit is a highly educated workforce – this doesn’t come cheap. Secondly – education is THE silver bullet when it comes to social mobility. We cannot afford our schools to sink in the way they are at the moment. The future of our country depends on it.