Teachers say classrooms are in a funding crisis. But the Government claims there is now double the amount of money to spend per pupil than in 2000. Gurjeet Nanrah asks teachers, unions and researchers what price is really being put on Nottingham children’s education.
For more than a century, free education has been an unwavering right in Britain.
But teachers say this right is now being threatened by cuts to basic budgets, leaving children’s futures in jeopardy, and staff covering spending shortfalls out of their own pockets.
The National Audit Office has reported capital spending on schools and colleges has been cut by more than one-third in real terms since 2010-11, and action groups say nine in ten schools across the nation have felt the squeeze since 2015/16.
Yet in contrast, the Government says schools are getting more money overall than ever before, while acknowledging there are “budgeting challenges”.
One teacher from Broxtowe, who spoke to Notts TV on condition of anonymity, said his school’s resourcing is “not even comparable” to the last decade and spoke of mounting pressure on teachers through cuts.
Union representatives say teachers are buying necessary equipment out of their own pockets, primary school swimming lessons are a thing of the past and the most vulnerable children are the most affected.
Speaking to teachers at a National Education Union (NEU) event in Beeston, they and those formerly working in schools are clearly concerned with where education is headed.
A teacher from Beeston, who spoke under anonymity, said: “Administration staff have been made redundant first at my school, meaning additional burdens on the existing members of staff. The squeeze is definitely being felt.
“I have been there for 16 years and the resourcing just isn’t even comparable, there is a reliance on teacher donations now.
“Basic things like glue sticks and pencils are much harder to get hold of. We have to pay out of pocket to keep the class going.”
Four out of five headteachers have recently had to cut back on teaching assistants, and Liam Conway, current president of the NEU for Nottinghamshire, says this is having a serious impact.
He said: “When teaching assistants are cut the teachers can’t teach as intuitively in classrooms. Giving vulnerable children support would make it less difficult for them to access the curriculum.
“Children are losing their one-to-one support, adding pressures on teachers.”
Jane Crich, the NEU joint secretary for Nottinghamshire, said: “Children with the most complex needs are not having their needs met.
“Teachers are having to deal with them [without help previously given by teaching assistants], meaning other children are neglected.”
She added: “Teaching is the only job where you have to steal things from home.
“I hear of schools asking parents for contributions for books and equipment and teachers having pay up to £800 for these things themselves.”
She says cuts are ending forms of enrichment in the classroom too, with music and drama seeing less student participation.
“Swimming in primary schools is also being put aside and through these decisions, essential life skills are being lost.”
School Cuts, an action group set up by the NEU, calculates its figures by comparing the Government’s public statistics from 2018/19 to those of 2015/16.
Taking inflation into account, School Cuts say “schools in England today have £5.4 billion less than they did in 2015/16”, with schools in Nottinghamshire experiencing a loss of £59.2 million.
They state: “After nearly 10 years of underfunding, our schools are at the crisis point.”
The issue has become increasingly volatile politically, leading to action taken by Nottingham City Council last year. The authority placed banners in Old Market Square, in partnership with School Cuts, and spending £1,000 of its own money, publicising the lack of funding.
A spokesman for the council said: “The council has lobbied the Government to reconsider its proposals that would see 82 out of 84 of our schools continue to face cuts, while the city as a whole faces a £10 million cut in its school funding by 2020.
“We remain concerned about the detrimental impact on our children’s education that these funding cuts will have and so were happy to help the School Cuts campaign.”
A Department of Education spokesman said: “We have been clear that there is more money going into our schools than ever before, and since 2017, we have given every local authority more money for every 5 to 16-year-old in every school and made funding fairer across the country.
“Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that in real terms per pupil funding for five to sixteen-year-olds in 2020 will be more than 50% higher than it was in 2000.
“However, we recognise the budgeting challenges schools face and have introduced a wide range of practical support to help schools and head teachers, to help schools make the most of every pound on non-staff costs.”
Councillor Neghat Khan, portfolio holder for early years, education and employment at the City Council, has made her views on cuts known.
She said: “Being a parent myself, I know the situation means parents are expected to contribute a lot more. It’s basically weekly now that you’re asked to pay for something.
An area she wants to see revitalised is work experience for school children.
She added: “I’ve asked offices to compile a list of all the businesses in the city so that could be something we share with schools. We could have different schools [going in to businesses] at different times of the year to get more opportunity.
“Work experience is so important – not only to get inspiration, but also to experience something and find out it’s not what you want to do.”
Councillor Khan is trying to establish a link between rising instances of ‘off-rolling’ – where children end up off a school’s books for a variety of reasons – and a decrease in funds, saying she believes it is the most vulnerable children which suffer in such cases.
She added: “If nothing’s done about it, this might be a generation we really let down.”