Chancellor announces extra £2.3 billion in funding for schools
Yesterday, the Chancellor delivered his Autumn Statement, announcing that an extra £2.3bn in funding for schools next year, and a further £2.3bn the year after, bringing the core schools budget to a total of £58.8 billion. In the written document, the government explains that this will provide an average cash increase of more than £1,000 for every pupil by 2024-25, restoring per-pupil funding to 2010 levels in real-terms.
Despite the economic crisis, Jeremy Hunt expressed his determination to ensure that the improvement in school standards continues to accelerate. Speaking in the House of Commons, he said, ‘we want school standards to continue to rise for every single child, [so] we are going to do more than protect the schools budget, we are going to increase it.’ The Chancellor also spoke about the implementation of a skills reform programme to ensure all school leavers get the skills they need for a modern, dynamic economy. Acknowledging the progress made by school leaders, teachers and support staff over the last decade, Hunt explained the government wants to ‘make sure that the vital job they do is protected through a difficult period […] building a brighter economic future for all.’
Leaders across the sector have cautiously welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement. Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts (CST), said ‘schools and school trusts have the talent and expertise to find innovative and cost-effective ways to keep improving education and supporting their local communities, and the announcement today will help them to plan ahead.’
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) agrees that the Autumn Statement sounds like positive news for education. However, he adds that ‘the devil tends to be in the detail and we’ll be closely looking at the figures to fully understand the implications,’ especially for special education needs and disabilities (SEND) and post-16 provision.
Sixth form college teachers vote to strike
This week, the National Education Union (NEU) announced that members teaching in sixth form colleges have voted to take strike action in response to an offer from the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), which would see the majority of teachers receive a pay award of 5 percent.
On a turnout of 63 percent, 88.5 voted in favour of strike action. The NEU argues that sixth form college teachers have seen a real-terms pay cut of 20 percent since 2010. Now, members have decided that ‘enough is enough,’ calling on the Education secretary to fully fund an inflation-plus pay rise. The first planned day of strike action is 30 November. This may be the first in a series of strikes over teacher pay, as the NAHT and NASUWT are currently balloting their own members on the prospect of industrial action.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, says she hopes ‘Gillian Keegan will quickly use her influence as education secretary to make the case for sixth form colleges,’ taking the time to consider the effects that real-term pay cuts are having on staff and the consequences that would result from their leaving the profession.
However, when writing to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) this week, the Education secretary emphasised the need for pay awards to strike a careful balance, stating that ‘in the current economic context, it is particularly important that you have regard to the Government’s inflation target when forming recommendations.’ Keegan also asked the STRB to consider the impact that salary increases would have on school budgets.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, criticised that ‘the Government is cynically using its own inadequate funding levels to justify more attacks on teacher pay,’ promising that the NEU will continue to campaign for ‘the pay teachers deserve.’
Inspectors find significant weaknesses in SEND arrangements
In May 2016, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) introduced a programme of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) inspections, assessing how well local areas were implementing reforms to effectively meet the needs of young people with SEND. The final inspection in this programme took place in March 2022 after a period of six years.
During the first year, 28 percent of local areas were required to produce a written statement of action (WSoA) to address significant weaknesses in their SEND arrangements. Data shows that since then, the proportion of local areas requiring a WSoA has continued to rise. In 2021-22, inspectors had significant concerns about more than half of the local areas they visited. Two thirds of inspection outcomes resulted in a WSoA, the worst record in six years.
Further analysis of inspection outcomes reveals there are stark regional divides. Only a third of local areas in London were required to produce action plans, in contrast to 74 percent in the North East and 82 percent in the East of England.
As of 31 August 2022, Ofsted have carried out 46 revisits to determine whether local areas have made any progress since producing a WSoA. Whilst most local areas were making at least some improvement, only 43.5 percent were making sufficient progress in addressing all significant weaknesses.
At the same time, parental complaints regarding SEND education have soared, rising by three-quarter in the last four years. Parents have expressed frustration at councils dismissing their concerns, saying ‘they just want parents to go away. They genuinely don’t seem to understand their responsibilities.’
When a local area is making insufficient progress, the Secretary of State may decide to intervene. Last year, SEND services in Birmingham were taken over by a commissioner appointed by the Department for Education (DfE). Similarly, Devon and North Somerset have both been issued with improvement notices or statutory directions from the government, whilst Kent council currently waits for a decision from ministers. The DfE has commissioned Ofsted and the CQC to develop a new area SEND inspection framework to launch from early 2023.
This week, we are reminded that investment in the education of children and young people is investment in our future.
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