Theresa May recently claimed that austerity is over and that ‘the British people need to know that the end is in sight’. So understandably there was a lot of interest in the recent Budget, with hopes high that surely the Conservatives were about to undo the damage they have inflicted on public services over the last eight years?
Of course, people probably knew the Prime Minister’s comments were always too good to be true – the big increases in funding that are needed to restore the public services we all use and so many people rely on every day failed to appear. The planned Tory cuts continue to be forced on local government and other public services like the police – with direct government funding for councils still due to end in 2020/21. All this whilst mess the Tories have created around Brexit places the country under further economic uncertainty.
Labour won’t fall for the spin put on the Chancellor’s insulting announcement of £400 million of school funding for what he called the “little extras” – about £16,000 per school in England. This money doesn’t even begin to cover the savage cut of £3.5 billion from school budgets that we’ve seen from the Conservatives since 2010. Last year, as a result of these cuts, we saw reductions in nearly every group of school support staff across the country – coming on the back of a 10% decrease in teaching assistants in secondary schools since 2013 which adversely affects the most disadvantaged pupils. Labour knows that as support staff jobs disappear other school colleagues or teachers get drafted in to do the work, when they want to be doing their jobs and teaching pupils instead. This places greater pressure on school staff who are already doing more with fewer resources.
Cutting school budgets hits the pupils who need the most support the hardest– particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). In Lambeth alone, there has been a 25% increase in demand for additional SEND support since a new system of Education Health Care Plans was introduced in 2014 (the London average is a 14% increase). But at the same time there hasn’t been a comparative increase in the amount of money that Lambeth schools receive through the schools grant (where Lambeth already receives lower than the London average) with Lambeth only getting an extra 2% for SEND provision. This is just one area of school funding, but the principle applies across education budgets – when demand goes up or the Government changes the rules around provision and then doesn’t follow it up with proper funding their decisions to cut budgets only places further pressures on our education system.
Despite the funding cuts, Lambeth children go to fantastic schools – with 96% of Lambeth secondary schools and 90% of primary schools rated by OFSTED as Good or Outstanding. The tremendous improvement in our local schools didn’t happen by accident: it required strong local leadership, the dedication of teachers and the involvement of parents, together with significant investment from the last Labour government. Lambeth Labour is clear that that progress is being put at risk by the Conservatives’ cuts to education. Together with parents and teachers, we fought against additional Tory cuts to local schools last year and we will continue to fight for an increase in school funding that will give our young people the education they deserve.
Cllr Ben Kind, Deputy Cabinet Member for Schools