It is no wonder Boris Johnson wants this election to be about Brexit. He knows that if the conversation moves to issues like the NHS or living standards then the Conservatives will be stuffed. They stand on a record of misery and hardship, and they are promising more of the same.
Exposing school cuts is the key to unlocking the next general election. In a crowded minefield for the Tories, school funding is particularly explosive; at the last general election, 750,000 people changed their vote because of school cuts. This has to be repeated or bettered if we want to boot Johnson out of Downing Street.
Four years of school cuts.
The 2015 Conservative manifesto promised to “protect school funding”. This promise was broken: they cut schools across the board. The National Education Union, alongside other unions and parent groups, launched the School Cuts campaign to expose this deceit. It confirmed what parents could already see with their own eyes: schools were losing staff, resources were scarce, and some schools could not even afford to stay open for a full five days a week. Parents voted accordingly and the Tories were stripped of their majority in the 2017 general election.
Because Johnson knows schools funding is electorally dangerous for him, he has doubled-down on pledges. During his Tory leadership campaign, he pledged that school funding will “be levelled up across the entire country.” Then, as prime minister, he made the bold assertion that he could not accept an education system that allowed “winners or losers”.
But the rhetoric is not matched with action: both these claims are untrue. He has promised additional funding – an extra £14bn on primary and secondary schools over the next three years – but even when that’s come through, schools will still be short of billions compared to what they had in 2015. And, of course, the biggest cuts will fall on schools that can least afford them.
In this election, all campaigners need to be armed with the facts about school cuts to expose Tory lies.
Even with Johnson’s spending promise, schools still lose out.
In 2017, Tory politicians fell over themselves to insist that schools had ‘record levels of funding’.
This claim treats voters like morons. The Tories pretended they didn’t understand inflation and they ignored rising pupil numbers. Their numbers are meaningless. If a class goes from having 29 pupils and enough money for 29 books, to having 31 pupils and only enough money for 30 books this is not ‘record levels of funding’: it’s a cut.
The only numbers that matter are those which account for school costs and pupils numbers. These are the numbers used in the School Cuts campaign. Now, in 2019, schools are short almost £2.5bn compared to 2015. After Johnson’s money finally arrives schools will still need another £1.5bn.
Schools have faced brutal cuts and they are not going anywhere.
There are no winners, but plenty of losers.
Dark green shows the areas with lots more funding. There’s no dark green.
The government cleverly timed the cuts to coincide with a redistribution of resources to ‘historically under-funded’ (read: Tory) areas. They pretended they had to take from Peter to give to Paul. In reality, as it currently stands every single local authority in the country has had its funding cut. Next year there will be one exception: the City of York will have approximately £20 per pupil more than it had in 2015. Every other area will have less. All in all, a staggering 83% of schools will still face cuts and for a third of schools, the cuts will be even worse than they are now.
That’s not to say everyone will lose out equally. We’re all losers but some of us will lose more. Inner cities will be hit hardest, as will areas with high levels of poverty. The best measure of poverty in a school population is the number of children who get free school meals. By this measure, the poorest 10% of primary schools will face double the cuts of the richest. For secondaries it is even starker: cuts to the poorest will be triple that to the richest.
The Tories have robbed Peter and Paul, and they want Peter to thank them because Paul has it worse.
The worst-hit: special needs, nursery, and post-16.
The figures above are only for general school funding. But the cuts don’t end there.
The ‘high needs block’, which funds special educational needs provision, is already £1.6bn short on 2015 levels, and there is no indication this will change. This means schools have to choose between not meeting these children’s needs, or resourcing it from their already stretched school funds.
Early years funding – for children under the age of five – has been cut by £250k and there’s no sign that this will change either. Many nursery schools face imminent closure, leaving parents with no alternative but the overpriced private providers that do not employ qualified teachers.
Perhaps worse of all are the cuts to 16-19 education. These are already over £1bn. Johnson’s funding plans ignore this area entirely so the situation will only get worse.
The prospects for post-16 education are grim and look to get even worse.
An election of stark choices.
Johnson’s smokescreen will not work. If he is elected, children and schools will continue to lose out. But if the Tories lose, we can begin to repair the damage.
Children only get one opportunity to go to school. They’ve already faced years of cuts so it’s time to give them a fair chance.
This is an election of stark choices. In 2017, school cuts were the issue that lost the Tories their majority. In 2019 it can be the one that loses them the keys to Downing Street.
James McAsh is a Labour councillor in Southwark, a primary school teacher and president of the Lambeth Branch of the National Union of Teachers.
All numbers and graphs are publicly available from the School Cuts campaign, maintained by the National Education Union – which is independent of all political parties. Full dataset available here. Statistics about cuts to individual schools and local areas are available here.