School funding figures don’t add up. We need a new union to solve the problem

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09 March 2017 by Adrian Prandle
Here’s a simple maths problem. Answer it as completely as you can, showing your workings.
Small confused pupil

Last year, Justine’s parents Theresa and Phillip gave her £3 pocket money. She spent it on birthday presents for her 30 classmates from the tuck shop, at a cost of 10p each. Justine’s pocket money for 2017 has been frozen at 2016 levels – but she has three new classmates to buy presents for and what’s more, the tuck shop has put prices up to 12p.

  • How many classmates will Justine be forced to disappoint?
  • How many 10p pieces would Phillip need to find down the back of the sofa to keep everyone happy?
  • How can the party of government claim to be fulfilling a manifesto promise to protect school funding (on page 34) at the same time as failing to adjust for both increased costs and increased pupil numbers in the latest funding formula?

Any ideas?

Put simply, your money doesn’t go as far when you have more people to provide for and costs are increasing. Accounting solely for extra pupils can’t help matters when the amount you need to educate each pupil is getting higher and higher. What you need is more money.

But yet it looks like we have an extremely disappointing budget for schools funding. Throwing £320m at free schools, which if Government gets its way, will soon be able to select their pupils on ability, is risky and wrong. Schools across the country need that funding boost, and much more. Whilst we wait for free schools to be opened, the rest of the country’s schools will be wondering whether they can actually provide high quality education with a broad curriculum for five days a week.

Schools and unions aren’t the only ones struggling with these sums. In December, the National Audit Office (NAO) published two key figures illustrating a stark future:

  • 8% - the real-terms reduction in per-pupil funding between 2014-15 and 2019-20 due to cost pressures
  • £3bn – the savings that schools need to find by 2019-20 to counteract cost pressures.

Last month, the NAO released another report showing how schools’ repair costs will double between 2016 and 2021, at the same time as having to provide 420,000 new school places. Though the Chancellor’s £216m for school refurbishment is welcome in the Budget, it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the £6.7bn which is needed to return all school buildings to a satisfactory or better condition.

Despite government’s new National Funding Formula reallocating distribution, some 98% of schools face cuts when inflation and new costs are considered. While ATL retains its concerns that the new formula will remove local influence over school funding, civil servants did a decent job creating a weighted multi-factor formula. But that’s totally undermined if there’s not enough money to share round.

Capital funding is very difficult to come by since Michael Gove cancelled Building Schools for the Future. With the onslaught of policy change over the last seven years still being implemented, and the knowledge that their staff have been underpaid and over-worked for some time, it is understandable that some school leaders choose to save for a rainy day (quite literally when there are holes in the roof).

But with the rainy days here to stay, it is impossible not to conclude that schools need more money. This is challenging for a government ideologically committed to long-term austerity, but it is true.

Should ATL and NUT members vote to form it, the National Education Union (NEU) will have the weight of numbers, the research, the ideas and the expertise of nearly half a million members to help the Government take on the challenge. And ministers should be grateful for that because the public, and parents especially, are catching on to the problem.

As Justine found in our maths problem, not enough money means not enough to go round: whether we’re talking about presents, text books, IT equipment, extra-curricular activities, or teacher contact time. And as the Education Select Committee has pointed out, not enough money (alongside unmanageable workload) means not enough teachers.

As Nansi Ellis wrote, funding, teacher supply, workload, and the pressure of policy implementation are all interrelated. And all impact on children’s learning and development.

Being able to see that and say it, as ATL does, is one thing. But being able to say it with the voice of almost half a million NEU members across every sector of education can make more difference to children’s education and education professional’s working lives – and make that difference sooner.

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted and NUT general secretary Kevin Courtney answer your questions on the NEU


See how ATL and NUT are already working together to highlight the funding issue. Head over to, the website we developed last year and relaunched last month with the government’s published data to see exactly how schools in your area will be affected by real-terms cuts in per-pupil funding.

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