On 29th November 2018 Baroness Morris of Yardley led a debate in the Lords on the motion “That this House takes note of the impact on schools of Her Majesty’s Government’s approach to school funding.” The Bishop of Worcester, Rt Revd John Inge, spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, for securing this important debate on school funding and for her impassioned and powerful introduction to it. I fear that she is right that there is a crisis in school funding. Head teachers in the diocese of Worcester speak of the stress they are experiencing due to funding worries; of not sleeping due to such worries, which impacts negatively on all they are trying to do; of a sense of letting down children with significant needs; and of a feeling that they have nowhere to turn to be truly heard. One head of a school who has been asked to double its numbers has not been provided with sufficient funding to do so, throwing his school into financial insecurity and causing immense stress.
Of course, that stress and anxiety is not unique to the diocese of Worcester, nor to head teachers. According to the 2018 Teacher Well-Being Index, 67% of teachers reported that they were stressed at work, which has led to taking time off work for extended periods. That, of course, not only affects people’s progress and attainment but puts additional pressure on schools, which have to hire cover teachers, often at a much higher level of pay.
Following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said in his speech, despite the increase in high-needs funding for those with complex educational needs, school leaders still report that funding is insufficient to meet the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities who attend their schools. One such case in my diocese is a school that has had to cut its speech and language individual intervention support to one afternoon a week, and is unable to support more specialist provision. That has led to a significant number of children not receiving appropriate intervention programmes.
In some cases, the strain on funding for children with special educational needs becomes too much, as has been implied. The Commons Education Select Committee heard evidence from the National Education Union that,
“in the current climate, schools are cutting resources to vulnerable children and permanently excluding instead and saving thousands of pounds”.
It is surely a matter of extreme concern that exclusions should be made on a financial basis and that children with special educational needs are being denied appropriate education because of lack of funding.
Turning to multi-academy trusts, they are witnessing a rearrangement of funding to reflect the needs of individual schools in the trusts, with the surplus of more prosperous schools being used to meet the deficit in the schools that are not thriving. The Minister has spoken about the additional benefits of the economies of scale that can be achieved by joining a multi-academy trust. That is undoubtedly true; it can be of great benefit, but there is a problem when schools are not receiving support and, as a result, fail their pupils and may be forced to close. For small and rural schools, for example, the financial challenges can make them inherently unattractive for academy chains or multi-academy trusts. Thus, they may be unable to provide the access, support and security that being part of a MAT provides.
There are particular difficulties with small and rural schools, and I know that the Minister attended a conference on their needs at Lambeth Palace earlier this week. Such schools are hit much more severely by external factors and are generally less able to adapt. For example, a small school that suddenly has one fewer pupil than expected would lose a larger proportion of its funding and would be less able to adjust to the effect of that reduction. There are also many additional associated costs in running small rural schools that are not reflected in funding structures. For example, because rural locations find it harder to attract young newly qualified teachers, the teachers they do attract are very often paid more, so rural schools have higher associated staffing costs. That is just one of the many instances in which circumstances are stacked against rural schools.
Anyone who has spoken to educators will know that there is a real struggle to make ends meet at present, which could well be described as a crisis. It is of course necessary and right that deficiencies should be pursued, but there is a real danger of perceived efficiency leading to deficiency. We should be looking to those setting the best examples when it comes to making cuts, to learn from best practice. At the same time, it is surely crucial to ensure that funding matches the needs of schools once sensible efficiencies have been made. Efficiency should not compromise the education of any child. I fear that that is now happening.