The Telegraph reports that credit where credit is due: the National Union of Teachers and other unions played an absolute blinder with their extremely successful School Cuts campaign earlier this year. It feels like only yesterday that the government announced that it had found an additional £1.3 billion funding for England’s schools as a result of it.
However, like a group that stumbled upon a No. 1 hit single, the unions are back today, and their comeback song doesn’t sound very different to their last: give us more cash or schools will crumble, teachers will leave in droves, and our children’s future will be as bleak as a Ken Loach film.
With a tune like this, no wonder we’re struggling to recruit more teachers – when was the last time you heard a union say anything positive about the profession?
I don’t blame them for trying it on – getting more cash for their members is why they exist. However, as someone who has been in education for 15 years, including five years as a headmaster, I think that they are just plain wrong with their scaremongering. I worry that the relentless doom and gloom will backfire when their premonitions fail to come to pass, and could undermine important developments on other aspects of funding.
Actually, I think that the year-on-year growth in funding experienced by the school system since 1997 is part of the reason why the recent slowdown feels so painful. Between 1997 and 2015, per pupil primary funding went up by 114 percent; the equivalent for secondary was 90 percent. The additional cash went on more staff, higher salaries, and ever-increasing pension contributions too. Financially, we had never had it so good.
More importantly though, we’re within reach of a massive prize for education: a proper “National Funding Formula” (NFF). This would mean that – finally – a student in Bedford will get the same money as those living in Bradford or Brixham.
The unions are really missing a trick here. If we can achieve agreement on NFF, it completely changes the conversation. Political parties will stop playing games and compete with one another to boost the money each individual kid gets. I predict a significant increase in this as a result.
However, if people push too hard, too soon, for more cash, the whole consensus around this could collapse, and a once in a generation opportunity to make funding fairer will be lost.
Do you agree with Mark Lehain? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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