Education International
Education International

UK: guarded welcome for extra funding for schools serving disadvantaged communities

published 24 January 2017 updated 2 February 2017

Education unions welcomed the education secretary’s announcement to fund an additional six “Opportunity Areas,” and urged the government to ensure that all children can go to school, regardless of their social background.

Two of Education International (EI)’s UK affiliates have given a guarded welcome to Education Secretary Justine Greening’s speech on social mobility and targeted funding in additional ‘Opportunity Areas’. These areas are recognised “social mobility cold spots,” which are earmarked for additional support to help improve the lives of disadvantaged children.

NUT: Funding crisis in schools

“The creation of ‘Opportunity Areas’ is an acknowledgement that schools serving disadvantaged communities need more money,” said Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT). It is “an admission by government that these schools face multiple challenges, which must be recognised.”

However, it is “highly disingenuous” of the education secretary to suggest that this money is new funding, and that schools across the country are in the middle of a funding crisis. While Greening has promised £6 million to each of the 12 ‘Opportunity Areas’ (£72 million in total), “the sad and bitter irony is that those areas will collectively lose £115 million in real-term cuts under the current plans for school funding, so this still amounts to a loss,” Courtney added.

He insisted that the funding for ‘Opportunity Areas’ is supposedly aimed at school improvement, but follows the gutting of the Education Services Grant, which is cutting £600 million over the next two years from local authority budgets. This is extra relevant as much of this money had been allocated to support school improvement, said Courtney.

The £72 million will not go far compared with the impacts of the worst funding crisis in decades for all schools and sixth form colleges, he said, adding that “it is misleading in the extreme to present this funding as somehow ‘extra’”.

The NUT predicts real-term cuts rising to £3 billion per year by 2020.

NASUWT: Significant increase to cost of education

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) General Secretary, Chris Keates, also stressed that “it is promising that the Secretary of State for Education acknowledges the NASUWT’s concerns about the impact of poverty and disadvantage on children’s education”.

However, while the government’s announcement of additional funding for ‘Opportunity Areas’ has the potential to make a difference, it will not be enough to address the cumulative impact of real-term cuts to spending on education and to the range of services vital to meeting the educational needs of children and removing barriers to learning, she said.

The NASUWT has found strong and compelling evidence that the cost of education for families has increased significantly since 2010.

The Government must come forward with measures that will ensure that “children’s entitlement to a broad and balanced education is not dependent on parents’ ability to pay”, Keates went on to say.