“Devil will be in the detail” Sunderland's education leaders react to Budget

“The devil will be in the detail” – the reaction of the city’s education leaders and teaching union to the Chancellor’s budget and what it will mean for Sunderland’s schools.

Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 5:45 pm

The Chancellor has announced an additional £4.7bn of funding for schools in England by 2024-2025, which Rishi Sunak has said will take spending on education back to its 2010 level.

It will represent an average increase of £1,500 per pupil.

While welcoming the additional funding, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT - although does now include male members) Sunderland Branch Secretary Brian Wilson has called for greater clarity over the timing and level of investment.

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Sunderland City Council's Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Cllr Louise Farthing, wants greater clarity on how the funding will be phased in.

Brian said: “Any money coming into education is welcome but we need clarity on whether this return to the investment level of 2010 factors in inflation. We have seen massive budget cuts to education over the last decade and so even if it does then all we are doing is going back to where we were nearly 12 years ago – that’s not really progress.

"The Chancellor also needs to clarify how it is going to be phased in and when schools will start to get this money here in Sunderland. Schools need this money now, not in three years time.

"The devil will be in the detail and we really need to see what this means for Sunderland schools.”

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As part of his budget, the Chancellor has announced an additional £4.7bn of funding for schools but many education leaders don't think it goes far enough. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

It’s a sentiment shared by Sunderland City Council’s portfolio holder for education, Cllr Louise Farthing who said: “We need to see some clarity on what this return to 2010 investment means in real terms.

"If all we are doing is getting back to this level of investment by the end of this parliament then it doesn’t say much about the progress made under this Government.

"Schools need this money now, not in 2025, and so we also need clarity on how this will be phased in. £4.7bn might sound a lot of money but it’s not that much when distributed between all schools across the country.

"We need to wait and see just what it will mean for Sunderland schools.”

While welcoming the increase, headteacher at Hetton School, Craig Knowles, feels it doesn’t go far enough to redress years of chronic under-funding.

Mr Knowles said: “Whilst it’s important to recognise the progress being made in education spending, we must also be aware that bringing spending back to 2009 levels within the next three years still leaves the sector underfunded.

"Despite being a secondary school, we appreciate there has been some money put into early years, however it is nowhere near enough. These are the ages that make the biggest difference to children’s development and yet it has been underfunded for decades.

“At Hetton School we have significantly improved student outcomes over the past two years, whilst coping with budget restrictions and the impact of the pandemic.

“The North East region has its own context that needs greater recognition for the exceptional schools in our region that have continued to improve despite the cuts of previous years."

The Chancellor has also announced the end to the public pay freeze – including teachers. While welcoming this news, education leaders are concerned that any pay increases will have to be covered by the additional funding.

Brian said: “Teachers salaries account for around 80 per cent of a school’s budget. While teachers deserve a pay increase, whatever is recommended will very quickly erode this £4.7bn. In the absence of an additional pot to cover this, a lot of this money will be swallowed up by this pay increase.

"While this may help to retain good teachers, I’m not sure how much this funding will end up benefiting the children.”

Depending on when schools are able to access the additional money, Cllr Farthing is concerned about the potential ramifications for school staffing.

She said: “The increase is proposed by the end of this parliament but when the pay increase is introduced next year, if this money is not yet available then how are schools going to fund it?

"Teachers deserve a pay rise but my biggest concern is if it has to come out of school budgets without enough funding already being in place for next year. If there is not enough money then this could lead to potential redundancies.”

The Chancellor has also pledged an extra £2bn for the education recovery from Covid, taking total investment in getting children caught up to nearly £5bn.

However it still falls short of the £15bn recommended as needed by former Education Recovery Commissioner for England, Sir Kevan Collins, who quit his post in June over the lack of "credible" Covid catch-up funding.

Cllr Farthing said: “When compared to what the Government’s own catch-up tsar said there is still an enormous gap. The Government are very keen on the use of tutors to help children catch-up but these need to be paid for and there is currently a shortage.

Brian added: “Schools in Sunderland have really been hit hard and have struggled during the pandemic and the Government’s own adviser suggested three or four times this amount is needed.

"In many ways this is just a sticking plaster which won’t solve the problem.”

However the additional money was welcomed by Mr Knowles who said: “We still have lots of work to do to accelerate student’s learning after the slowing down during the pandemic, so any additional support here is welcome.”

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