A chancellor, even a Tory one, can never be seen to cut funding to schools. Just as in our hospitals, austerity is delivered through smoke and mirrors.
The false hope of protected school funding will be swallowed up in rising costs and it ignores a £600m cut in the education services grant. ‘Fairer funding’ may be welcomed in some parts of the country but will lead to even greater cuts in the inner cities.
However one school, in Liverpool, is enjoying a wholly different level of funding. The Everton Free School offers alternative provision for 14-19 year olds at a massive £35,000 per pupil. However that seems a drop in the ocean compared to the Harris Federation’s highly selective Westminster Sixth Form free school which cost £45,000,000 or £90,000 for each of its students.
Meanwhile piecemeal privatisation of our public assets continues. The DfE peddles the lie of school autonomy but offers grants of an extra £75k to set up more academy chains. Will any of that cash be spent on school improvement, teachers or even children? No, it is destined to line the pockets of the unaccountable MATs, their lawyers and accountants. Now Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, has recommended replacing volunteer school governors with paid board members.
The DfE admits that not all academies and free schools are necessarily better than maintained schools but it has allocated £12m to recruit advisers to extend the programme. These advisers, answerable to unelected Regional Schools Commissioners, will replace the DfE’s discredited, tax dodging, bullying academy brokers.
And what of the real crisis in teacher recruitment? The government has toyed with the free market and failed to retain sufficient experienced teachers or provide sufficient trainees. The latest Initial Teacher Training figures show a significant shortfall in new trainee teachers in secondary subjects while schools already report more posts going unfilled.
But does the u-turn on tax credits show that even the Tories are susceptible to public pressure? It is time to build on the work of trade unions and existing campaigns – those that expose child poverty, protect comprehensive education, defend adult education and fight privatisation. We need a national conversation about education and we need a national education service – truly comprehensive for all from cradle to grave.