Some may have greeted the government’s recent announcement of a huge £14 billion increase in school funding with delight. Anti-cuts campaigners and schools themselves are distinctly underwhelmed.
All over Brighton and Hove, schools are still displaying banners telling of the cuts they’ve collectively suffered – and the reason is simple. After a decade in which their funding has fallen year on year, they are at breaking point.
Any suggested increase to school funding is obviously welcome. However, if flashy figures fall apart under examination, then a promise of extra cash could, in fact turn out to be more of a threat than a bonus. If the public believe cuts are no longer an issue, then schools risk seeing the support they need melt away.
And the figures do fall apart. Paul Johnson, director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), describes Boris Johnson’s £14 billion school funding figure as “somewhere between meaningless and misleading”, only arrived at by adding up three years of spending – and neglecting to account for inflation.
Once the sums are done properly, the IFS tell us that the £14 billion actually becomes a real-terms increase spend of £4.3 billion, which will only fully kick in by 2022-23.
In other words, by 2023 the new money will bring funding back to roughly where it was in 2010, representing a 13-year freeze in per-pupil spending.
Since 2009-10, school funding per pupil has fallen by 8 per cent in real terms – and the promised extra investment won’t even begin until the next school year.
It’s clear that Conservative government figures are all smoke and mirrors. Given the impact of the funding problem hitting our education system, schools must be allowed to tell the truth in any way that they can.
The brilliant school banner campaign in Brighton and Hove comes from parent-led campaign group Save Our Schools.
Schools gladly display the banners because what they contain is the meticulously researched truth on school funding.
They make no political statement and simply remind us not to believe the hype: Brighton and Hove schools have suffered £15.6 million in funding cuts since 2015.
The fact is that our local schools have endured a decade of cuts which have left them struggling.
Teaching assistants have been removed, repairs have been cancelled, old equipment has not been replaced and parents are being asked for “voluntary donations” to pay for the basics.
Our schools do an amazing job but they are often doing it with holes in the roof. The least we can do is to allow them to keep telling us the truth. The banners reflect dwindling per-pupil spending – and the reality behind the school gates.
No matter what our political persuasion, all councillors represent residents whose children are in schools which have cut support staff, mental health support and outside services.
The teachers who regularly buy supplies for their classrooms out of their own pockets – and the teaching assistants who’re worried sick that their job will go next – they are our residents too.
As this election continues to bombard and misdirect us, it becomes ever-more difficult to remember what facts look like. We are increasingly at risk of making all our decisions based on hype.
On education funding at least we have a daily reminder of reality. We should not only be allowing our schools to keep their banners up, we should be thanking them for doing so.
Sarah Nield is a Green councillor and a member of the Children, Young People and Skills Committee on Brighton and Hove City Council.