Education is never far from the headlines, a political football which plays to the crowds, whether it be Ofsted, league tables or inflated GCSE results. However, a new storm is brewing, and it has been brewing for a long time, swirling around in the doldrums and going largely unnoticed in these turbulent political times.

In September 2018 thousands of Headteachers and CEOs of Academy Trusts marched on Downing Street demanding better funding for schools. This in itself was unusual, it wasn’t about pay, it wasn’t even about conditions – the perennial chant of the union driven protests and strikes.  This was a group from a union that has never even balloted for strike action in 125 years of existence.  The march had some small impact with a spending review promised.  The reality is that 4 years later the Heads are on the march again, and this time they are even more serious.

Real terms funding has been falling for the past twelve years, austerity has taken a significant bite out of schools’ capacity to serve their communities. The Headteacher Group ‘Worth-less’, based in Worthing has discussed how on a local level schools in differing locations get different funding- putting some schools and as such their pupils at a significant disadvantage. Many schools have had to reduce the subjects on offer at GCSE and A-Level due to not being able to afford the teachers to teach those courses. As a result of this, students are losing out on potential opportunities they could have had if schools were adequately funded.

At both national and local level, headteachers have juggled the funding given to them, they have coped with increased National Insurance and employer pension contributions year on year, as Chris Andrew, Headteacher of St James the Great Primary School in Thornton Heath says, “There is no more fat to trim, we have already not replaced staff who have left or retired, services are more expensive, or none existent and we have cut extras to the bone.  We are a well-run school, with healthy surplus for difficult times, but this will be gone by the end of the year.”  So why the concern now? The government has awarded teaching staff a pay rise that many were surprised by – on average 5%.  Now, in ordinary times, this would be cheered from the rafters, in reality, it is a paycut …again. Furthermore, it is unfunded which means that schools have to provide this money out of thin air.

In order for schools to be able to praise this extra funding they will be looking to external providers and the community. The Headteacher at St James the Great Primary School in Thornton Heath says, “we let out our halls on a regular basis, we have some long term lets to clubs such as gymnastics and Irish dancing” however he says that this is not going to be enough to fund their unbudgeted extra £120,000 needed for pay rises. Chris Andrew says that he will be relying on the help of his school community in this difficult time, in ways in which they can attend school events such as their firework night, Christmas fair and coffee mornings. Even volunteering to help at these events makes a big difference to these schools who have been put in such difficult positions, due to no fault of their own.

The future of these schools now relies on their self-funding. It relies on the school community which has potential to be compromised by the current cost of living crisis. The government's lack of funding is having detrimental effects on the current and future state of our schools. Maintaining current standards is no longer financially possible due to demands imposed by the state of our economy, so immense challenges lie ahead.