Why are “free” schools getting so much money when most schools are seeing their budgets cut?

21 December 2010
Local Schools Network
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The news that schools will not see a rise in spending in real terms in the coming four years is very troubling for parents and teachers like me. The government had said that spending would rise by 0.1% and it had been touted that the pupil premium for our poorest children would be £2500. It turns out that budgets will be cut significantly and the pupil premium will be £430.

These are some of the reasons why I think there will be big cuts in schools. Firstly, all the “ring-fencing” for specific educational ventures is going. That means funds for specialist schools will go (we’ve yet to hear whether specialist sports funding will be saved): jobs will be lost in this regard. All the various pathways for good teachers to get extra funding are going: Advanced Skills Teachers, Lead Teachers and other categories for “outstanding” teachers will be disbanded and replaced by one category of “Excellent” teacher. This will mean that all these teachers will have to re-apply for this post if/when it comes up in their area. You can bet that there will be a reduced budget for such things. Other funds for things like various strategies such as Diplomas, Work-Related Learning, PSHE and so forth will go. Headteachers will not replace them because they’ll just be trying to keep their heads above water, maintaining the fabric of their buildings, keeping their staff, and trying to implement the draconian new dictats in the White Paper.

Furthermore, in the maintained sector schools’ budgets are inextricably tied up with council budgets, which are facing swingeing cuts. This will mean that Local Authorities will be disbanded or run with skeleton staff, LA education services such as provision for excluded children and Special Needs children will be shut down, after-school services such as sports, music and arts clubs will be obliterated, youth provision will be annihilated, and library services will disappear. All those vital enrichment activities will be closed down. It will hit our poorest children hard because the new pupil premium won’t be nearly enough to compensate for these losses. In my borough, Tower Hamlets, many children from socially disadvantaged homes have been benefiting from fantastic opportunities after school: learning music, performing in orchestras, doing art, acting in theatrical productions, making films, doing all sorts of sporting activities, playing on the great IT facilities in the libraries, reading books and much more. As Sir Alistair McDonald, the headteacher at Morpeth School, a very successful inner-city comprehensive in my borough, said recently; these extra-curricular activities can’t be seen as “bolt-on” extras, but must be seen as integral if our poorest children are going to compete with privately-educated pupils in getting into Oxbridge. Indeed, as he pointed out, they are central to widening children’s perspectives and deepening their learning to a level where they can bring real subtlety and nuance to their thought.

The cuts to the schools dinners service looks like it will also lead to our children eating much more unhealthy food at school as well.

Any spare money in the system will go on supporting “free schools”, which we’ve already seen with the Bolingbroke Academy and the West London Free School, are essentially schools for the rich to separate their children from the poorest in their areas. We don’t know how much money this amounts to exactly (if anyone does, please tell us) but it must amount to hundreds of millions. The Bolingbroke Academy alone is going to cost £13m to set up. How many after school clubs could be run with this money?

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