Schools are not a trophy for the cabinet of electioneers to bear

The outlook for the bank balance of Sheffield schools over the next few years could be ‘cloudy, with possible showers of cash.’

Wednesday, 12th June 2019, 08:42 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th July 2019, 16:28 pm
Boris Johnson (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

We’re in the middle of a change of national leadership and the topic of education has been discussed more frequently this month than in the last few years.

This is a strange, micro election where lots of wealthy people get to decide who will govern over the rest of us – a bit of a throwback to centuries gone by – and there’s suddenly the prospect of schools being tossed a bone. Both Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson are making promises to try and entice – or maybe bribe – the Tory members to vote for them.

Centre stage in the debate, of course, has been Brexit – the beast that got us into this mess in the first place. But education has not been too far behind, along with other domestic issues not been given the time of day for years.

Boris Johnson’s education pledges are thin on the ground, and some need more detail. He’s wanting to boost spending per pupil by guaranteeing every child in primary and secondary school has at least £5,000 every year.

In some cities, the amount of funding is already way above this but we all know Sheffield is one of the areas where funding is at a critical stage and we should benefit if this becomes a reality. There’s no suggestion of how this money should be spent or if any will be ring fenced, and less concrete is Johnson’s suggestion that he will ‘look at’ bringing down interest payments for student loans.

On the subject of loans, Jeremy Hunt wants to write them off for any graduate who sets up a small enterprise and goes on to employ ten or more people for five years. That’s all very well for the business-minded and not so good for those who want to contribute to society by teaching or becoming a nurse.

Hunt also sets his stall out by pledging more money for schools and a reduction in student loan interest rates, though details are sketchy.

Headteachers are paying attention to the noises being made and tentatively getting ready to hold out their hands and catch any bonus funding. A significant cash injection into the education system is well overdue and would be more than welcome – of course it would.

There’s even been rumours in the media of Theresa May jumping the gun and pledging a funding boost herself as part of a departing legacy – figures of up to £5bn have been mentioned.

Former education secretary Justine Greening – the most enlightening person to hold that office in a generation – hit the nail on the head this week when she said schools should not be ‘horse-traded and offered cash in a last-minute popularity contest. Education has needed extra investment for years, she rightly said.

It is somewhat ironic and frustrating to learn money is now available for schools as potential leaders attempt to make themselves look good and the actual leader attempts to feather a nest she previously soiled. The day to day running of schools though, is grinding to halt in some places because cash is running dry.

A significant number of primary schools now run on a four-day week to keep costs down.

In my own school there has been a freeze on any spending whatsoever – not even bars of chocolate for a rewards assembly, no end of year day trip and you can forget pre-ordering stationary for September. And yet we’ve been here before, an headteachers will be having a shared experience of déjà vu as they keep up to date with the leadership race.

This is not the first time the government have pledged more money and promised to update the funding formula to benefit local schools, but let’s remember the rug was pulled from under our feet last minute.

So if there is money, we look forward to getting it and putting it to very good use to overturn the 8 per cent real term cuts endured. What we’re not interested in is short-term electioneering to further political careers that treats schools like a trophy for the cabinet.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​