Education in England faces the risk of being streamlined into a basic model, according to headteachers, following a government miscalculation that led to an embarrassing £370 million shortfall. Some school leaders are contemplating cutting teaching assistants (TAs), often vital for children with special educational needs (SEN), while others are considering delaying infrastructure projects and scaling back enrichment activities to balance their budgets.
The Department for Education (DfE) issued an apology after a forecasting error inflated the schools budget for 2024-25 by 0.62%. This adjustment means schools will receive £370 million less than initially communicated in July. Schools Minister Nick Gibb downplayed the impact, asserting that the July figures were indicative, and schools had not yet received funding for 2024-25. He emphasized that the total funding for schools would remain unchanged at a record £59.6 billion for 2024-25.
Despite Gibb’s assurances, headteachers argue that they are forced to revisit their budgets, leading to difficult decisions. Darren Gelder, executive headteacher of Grace Academy Solihull, expressed frustration, stating that the mistake has significant consequences for every school in England. Schools are now revaluating financial plans, including everything from lighting to staffing, to cope with reduced income.
Steve Hitchcock, headteacher at Saint Peter’s Church of England primary school, anticipates losing a teaching assistant due to the budget constraints. This is a concern for children with SEN and those catching up after Covid disruptions. Hitchcock’s budget has already been stretched, leading to crowdfunding for essential resources.
Glyn Potts, headteacher at Saint John Henry Newman RC College, expects his budget to be £75,000 short, potentially impacting classroom provision for children with special educational needs. Other headteachers, like Manny Botwe of Tytherington secondary school, are grappling with cuts affecting infrastructure projects and vital appointments, including pastoral workers.
The situation has prompted fears that unique aspects of schools, such as opportunities for enrichment and cultural capital, could be at risk. The shadow education secretary, Bridget Phillipson, criticized the Conservative government, citing the schools budget debacle as evidence of its failure to deliver high and rising standards for children. James Bowen of the NAHT school leaders’ union emphasized the additional strain on school budgets, with the funding error reducing flexibility and exacerbating existing challenges posed by real-terms cuts and inflation.