School Funding Crisis

Among the emails received yesterday was one from my son’s school (and the one I once attended too) regarding an anticipated shortfall in funding for the coming year. This comes in the light of a reduction in real terms to the funding the school has received over recent years. Accordingly and reluctantly, the school had to reduce its provision, and may do so again with potentially damaging affects. Remarkably, it was rated as “Outstanding” in all categories in its recent Ofsted inspection – see “Southend’s outstanding schools“.

It appears that grammar schools like this one are particularly affected and this in spite of non grammar schools in the area receiving up to 50% more funding than this school does, although as the old adage goes “the devil is in the detail“, and I would like to see the detail! Accordingly, and as my email stated, the school has “launched a public campaign to secure funding to cover the costs of next year’s lessons” and is encouraging those with a stake in the school to support this, for example by writing to our local MP. This I will gladly do as this is the right thing in a democratic system, although I have reservations as to how effective doing so will be, based on past experience, but I can hope. I suspect too that the funding for schools matter is not as straight-forward as we might like to think and it will be helpful to understand more.

In this age of austerity, it is evident none of us are immune from the worst effects. In the lead up to the forthcoming general election, this will no doubt be a hot debating point, especially as those most affected appear to be the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Given yet another round of Council cuts recently announced and the statement by the presently ruling political party nationally that cuts will continue for some time, questions such as spending priorities, where savings can be made and to what extent the country should try to reduce the national debt will no doubt continue.

There will no doubt be some who will be unsympathetic to the grammar school plight seeing these institutions as elitist, favouring the better off, although I feel that is a mistake given that those who will suffer are the many committed people involved with these schools that are merely concerned that the high standard of education provision be maintained. It is ironic that the present Conservative led government appears to have come down hard on grammar schools, given in the ideological debates of the past it had of all the political parties been most in favour of grammar schools. It is also salutary to reflect that under Tony Blair’s Labour government, with “education, education, education” as its stated priority, large amounts of extra money were poured into schools in general, although some would argue without an overall noticeable raising in the standards of education attainment.

Which brings me nicely to the crux of the matter, which is the threat to the services the school provides. It is true, hard decisions need to be made, we can/should not spend what we don’t have, and the shortfall of money in government coffers is well documented.  The “cut your cloth according your means” analogy comes to mind, and if past experience is anything to go by there will always be casualties. But if we were to go by the old-fashioned maxim of prioritising spending in order to get best value for money, there is surely a compelling argument for investing in those areas where this is the case (as has so clearly been demonstrated with this particular school) rather than, it might be argued, perversely reducing that investment, and jeopardising this country’s future by penalising its brightest young talents. I fear if the extra money isn’t found, grammar schools especially given they have been squeezed more than the non grammars already, will be faced with making decisions that will significantly and detrimentally impact on the school.

While as I write, I do not see a way forward to resolving the school’s current funding dilemma, finding a resolution should be a matter of urgent priority, and I am happy to add my weight to the campaign.

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