This year has been one of uncertainty and worry for parents across the country after the Tory government announced in the spring another round of deep cuts to the nation’s schools budget. As I wrote earlier in the year, these planned changes to the school funding formula could see £24 million taken out of Lambeth’s schools budgets with an overall loss across the country in real terms of £2.7 billion. This staggering set of cuts made even Tory MPs and some Tory councils complain to their leadership before the general election was called. This wasn’t true however in Lambeth, where the leader of Lambeth Conservatives bizarrely admonished parents in the borough for joining local teachers in lobbying against these funding changes. But leaving the increasingly odd views of local Tories aside for a moment, it was estimated that as many as 750,000 votes in the 2017 general election could have been swung by the school cuts issue. So after they lost their Parliamentary majority, what has the new government’s response been to the cascade of criticism of this unpopular policy?
Well, in July 2017 Justine Greening, the Education secretary, claimed she had won a one –off £1.3bn bail out for schools from her government. But it’s a sham. For starters, the so-called extra funding to schools, won’t allow them to even standstill when ongoing cost pressures are taken into account. It would provide a 0.5% increase for the school year 2018-19 when inflation is running at 2.9%, meaning that the cost of new books, building improvements and staffing costs will not be covered.
And to make matters worse, the £1.3 billion is essentially recycled money, taken from other parts of the Education Budget. There is not one penny extra for education from the Treasury. Much of the money is to be taken from the Healthy Pupils Funding for example. This is money raised from the Soft Drinks Levy that we were promised by the government in February 2017 would be available for schools to fund facilities to support PE, after-school activities and healthy eating. We know that in Lambeth, that around two in five children are obese or overweight by the time they start secondary school. Whilst we as a Council have been demonstrating strong leadership on tackling this issue in our borough, the Tory government at the same time is going back on their commitment and is stealing this money away from this valuable project.
In another slight of hand, the government has supposedly put on hold its controversial funding formula proposal which spurred the backlash from parents, teachers and council’s like Lambeth. But it hasn’t been put in the bin, where it belongs, it remains very much an option the government may well return too. Moreover, the Education Secretary also announced that government funding will go directly to schools, rather than through the Local Authority, from 2020. On the face of it this may appear like an administrative change, but it is a calculating one designed to isolate schools from each other and to enable central government to retain a tight control over budgets without the scrutiny and input of local councils and communities. Lambeth has a strong track record that demonstrates the strength of working collaboratively, of sharing expertise and skills to ensure that no school or pupil is left behind. We have built strong relationships with our schools and in May this year launched the Lambeth Schools Partnership. We know the strength of partnership working and how this positively impacts our children’s education. The government plans to snuff out this approach in favour of greater centralisation and less local accountability.
In Lambeth, under Labour, we have gone on a major success journey with our schools. Our teachers, children, parents and the council have worked tirelessly to turn us around from one of the worst areas in the country to go to school to one of the top education authorities in the country. Over 90% of our schools are good or outstanding. All this hard work is under threat by this Tory government.
So don’t be fooled by fake Tory announcements. This government continues to attack our schools. They are just not being honest about it, having realised it costs them votes. In Lambeth, Labour will continue to oppose their plans and work with our schools and parents to oppose these unfair cuts and proposals. Our petition against these changes now has over 1,000 signatures and I would urge you to add your name here.
Deputy Cabinet Member for Schools