The Tories’ Orwellian manipulation of statistics is causing outrage among teachers struggling to deal with increased class sizes and scaled-back curriculums, argues Angela Eagle MP
Ask any headteacher, teacher or school governor about school funding right now and you are likely to hear the same story: funding from the government is failing to keep pace with spiralling costs, leading to staff being laid off, class sizes increasing and the curriculum being scaled back.
These Tory cuts are decimating our schools, and damaging the educational opportunities for our children. The headteacher of one secondary school in my constituency told me that over the last five years the school has gone from employing 79 teaching staff and 18 teaching assistants to just 60 teachers and eight teaching assistants. He said that average classes sizes have risen, with the majority of pupils now being taught in classes of over 30.
One headteacher told me that his school was struggling to fund extra provision for pupils with special educational needs. Many pupils have needs which require one-on-one attention from teachers with very specific expertise, and the funding that schools receive per SEN child does not always provide for this. The headteacher said that SEN funding ‘disappears in an instant’.
On Tuesday I sponsored a debate in parliament about education funding in Wirral, the borough in which my constituency of Wallasey sits. In this debate I set out the stark consequences that education cuts are having on Wirral schools.
According to figures from the National Education Union, my own constituency of Wallasey is set to lose an average of £149 per pupil in real terms in between 2015-16 and 2019-20, with a total loss of 29 teachers. Wirral as a whole will lose £111 per pupil and 108 teachers.
These losses are being mirrored up and down the country. Through the National Education Union’s excellent website www.schoolcuts.org.uk, parents and teachers have been able to see for themselves exactly how much their schools are losing in real terms.
But what adds injury to insult is the Tories’ persistent and deceitful claim that that they are actually increasing funding for schools.
As I anticipated, the minister responded to the debate with a string of misleading figures claiming that Wirral schools would receive such an increase. It is worth interrogating these figures in some detail.
The government’s figures show that in 2018-19, Wirral schools will receive, on average, a 1.6 per cent increase in ‘cash terms.’ They will then receive a further ‘cash terms’ increase of 0.7 per cent in 2019-20.
It does not take an economic genius to work out that, with inflation running close to three per cent, this actually amounts to a significant real-terms cut.
But the government’s willful and very convenient confusion between a cash-terms and real-terms increase is only part of the story.
The minister’s figures show modest cash-terms rises from the 2017-18 baseline total. By choosing this baseline the government is entirely and deliberately ignoring the cuts that have taken place before this, cuts which are already being felt in classrooms across the country. That is pretty shoddy but there is even more bad practice to come.
The minister’s figures also overlook a raft of additional pressures on school budgets: the apprenticeship levy, national insurance contributions, pension contributions, any increases in staff pay, loss of education services provided by local authorities, any additional help on issues such as mental health and social services support. This support used to be provided by local authorities, but have now been decimated by the swingeing cuts to council budgets, also imposed by this government.
This combination of budget cuts, spiraling costs and additional spending burdens on schools are resulting in a funding crisis in our schools. And the government’s Orwellian manipulation of statistics is causing insult to injury.
As I said to the minister at the close of Tuesday’s debate, if he and his colleagues continue to claim that these cuts are in fact increases, then frankly he is not fit to be in his job.
It is outrageous that the government is persisting with these spurious claims. As schools in Wirral and across the country are struggling to give children the best possible education as their funding is slashed, the Tories are once again living in a parallel universe.
Angela Eagle is member of parliament for Wallasey. She tweets at @angelaeagle
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