School standards in England are at risk as schools face the biggest reduction in spending power since the mid-1990s, Bridget Phillipson, Labour Member of Parliament for Houghton and Sunderland South, has warned today.
A member of the cross-bench Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Bridget has endorsed a new report released by the Committee on the financial sustainability of schools.
The report finds that the Department for Education (DfE) “does not seem to understand the pressures that schools are already under” and is not well-placed to act swiftly if efficiency measures threaten the quality of education and its outcomes.
With funding per pupil falling in real terms, mainstream schools in England must find efficiency savings of £3 billion by 2019-20 if they are to manage with the funds available. The DfE believes schools can save £1.3 billion through better procurement and £1.7 billion by using staff more efficiently.
However, the PAC believes that the actions schools take are likely to increase teachers’ workload, with implications for recruitment and retention, and put at risk the quality of education.
The report also concludes that the DfE does not seem to have a plan to monitor in real-time how schools are making savings and their impact, but is instead relying on existing information such as Ofsted inspections and exam results.
Since these indicators are time lagged, their full impact on educational outcomes may not be known until 2021 when the new GCSE results come through. This will be too late for the children who are in school now.
The Committee warns that the Department does not seem to be learning from the experience of other sectors, “in particular from how over-ambitious efficiency targets in the NHS proved counter-productive”.
The Committee’s conclusions and recommendations are set out in detail below and in the attached Report.
Speaking after the publication of the PAC report, Bridget Phillipson MP said:
“During our inquiry into the financial sustainability of schools in January, I warned the government that its demands for schools in England to make £3billion of savings by 2020 risks plunging schools into an NHS-style funding crisis.
“Our report is clear that children’s futures are at risk if the government fails to act on that warning.
“There appears to be a collective delusion within Whitehall about the scope for further efficiency savings in public services.
“Unrealistic efficiency targets and weak leadership from the government have already caused long-term damage to the finances of the NHS, with trusts really struggling to meet increasing demand.
“We cannot allow this to happen in schools as well, but there are troubling similarities in the government’s approach to schools funding in England.
“As we heard during our inquiry, head teachers have already had to make potentially damaging cuts by making redundancies among staff and reducing the curriculum and pastoral services.
“Ministers must take urgent steps necessary to ensure the government can intervene quickly if there is evidence that its efficiency targets are damaging educational standards.
“That means properly monitoring in real-time performance as well as spending, making use of frontline indicators such as class sizes, the ratio of pupils to teachers and the breadth of the curriculum.
“Grand plans drawn up in Whitehall are dangerous if they are implemented without regard to real-world consequences and we will expect to see measures to address our concerns as a matter of urgency.”
The PAC Report into the financial sustainability of schools can also be accessed here