2019 Spring Term 1


  • Funding crisis: Crunch time
    This year will be particularly significant in terms of school and college funding, says Geoff Barton. With the government due to undertake its spending review, surely it is crunch time for education funding? More
  • Time to listen
    Findings of a new report highlight the role arts and culture education plays in realising potential in all young people. Here, Jacqui O'Hanlon from the Royal Shakespeare Company, explains why it's time to listen to what young people are telling us. More
  • The forgotten
    Chair of ASCL's Commission of Inquiry on The Forgotten Third, Roy Blatchford CBE, looks at why many of Britain's 16 year-olds leave school without a 'worthwhile pass' and the detrimental effects this is having on their life chances. More
  • Going further
    PPC General Secretary Dr Anne Murdoch OBE, a former college principal, highlights some of the challenges facing further education (FE) leaders and celebrates their successes. More
  • First steps
    How can schools best support early career teachers? Matt Walker from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) looks at the training and support early career teachers say they need, and considers the implications for schools and policy. More
  • Gold standard
    Epsom and Ewell High School is the first secondary school in the UK to achieve a gold award for its outstanding mental health provision. Assistant Head Chris Goodall explains how they approach health and wellbeing across the school. More
Bookmark and Share

This year will be particularly significant in terms of school and college funding, says Geoff Barton. With the government due to undertake its spending review, surely it is crunch time for education funding?

Funding Crisis: Crunch Time

It’s no surprise that funding continues to be the number one issue for ASCL members, with many reporting pressures on school and college budgets that are unsustainable and that are jeopardising the quality of education they are able to offer. 

As you would expect, ASCL will be campaigning vigorously for an improvement to funding both in the interests of children and young people, and as a vital strategic investment for the future prosperity of the nation. 

We recently conducted a consultation exercise among members about what steps you would like to see us take next in our campaign. This took the form of an open-ended question and an invitation to comment rather than a specific set of options. We received 465 responses and I wanted you to get a flavour of the comments: 

Funding consultation

Opinion overwhelmingly favoured direct lobbying of the government and MPs, building an evidence-based case about the financial situation facing schools and colleges, and highlighting the issue through the media and social media. Members put forward several detailed suggestions. These included providing school and college leaders with materials they could use in making the case to MPs and the government, and inviting ministers into individual schools to see the reality for themselves. 

The presentation of case studies was frequently mentioned, setting out concrete examples of the challenges faced by schools and colleges and the impact of real-terms funding cuts. Another recurring theme was the importance of engaging with parents in pressing the case for improved funding. Several respondents emphasised the need to counter the Department for Education’s misleading use of statistics, over which it was rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority in October. The anger and frustration this has caused is clear and we will be reflecting these findings back to the Department.

Respondents also mentioned a number of specific areas which they felt were particularly important to emphasise in the campaign. Most frequently mentioned were the lamentably low levels of funding in post-16 education; special educational needs funding, mental health support and the inadequacy of the high-needs budget; the need for pay awards and employer pension contributions to be fully funded; frustration that the National Funding Formula is only partially implemented and the need for fairer funding; and the lack of sufficient capital funding and the resulting impact on the condition of school buildings. 

Several respondents favoured working with other unions and organisations to present a united case for improved funding. Frequently mentioned was the WorthLess? campaign, which is led by West Sussex Headteacher Jules White, and which organised the headteachers’ protest in London in September. Some respondents suggested further protests or demonstrations. 

A number of respondents – around 50 in all – mentioned giving consideration to some form of industrial action. This is a significant number – about 10% of respondents. One said: “I couldn’t imagine ever saying this but I think it is time for co-ordinated industrial action which should include strike action if there is no other viable alternative.” Another said: “Never thought I would say this. Strike action may be the only route that will make them realise that we are at breaking point.” Several other respondents said something similar. The strength of feeling is clear. The fact that members who have never previously contemplated industrial action now consider it an option, demonstrates the depth of concern over funding and the frustration with the government’s response. 

To be clear: the legislative bar for industrial action is extremely high and there is no realistic prospect that it would be supported by the number of people needed to trigger such action. Some respondents expressly spoke out against industrial action. “Do not under any circumstances destroy our reputation by taking industrial action,” said one. However, we do feel it is significant that so many people felt this course of action was necessitated by government intransigence and we will be communicating that to ministers.

What next? 

We are grateful to everybody who took part in the funding consultation. It has been very helpful to hear from so many members. 

The strategy broadly favoured by respondents supports our approach of lobbying the government, highlighting the issue in the media, and working with other unions and organisations to present a united front. The message to us is to be robust and to redouble our efforts on all these fronts. 

We note also the strong emphasis on building an evidence-base to support our campaigning so that we are able to communicate clearly the impact on schools and colleges, and set out what is needed. To this end, our Funding Specialist Julia Harnden is already leading an expert team to develop a study that demonstrates the level of funding that is required to provide the sort of education service that we believe is expected by the public. The resulting document will be a key part of our evidence to the forthcoming government spending review and we will use it in our media statements. We will update you in due course. 

It is important we don’t lose hope. While the current funding settlement is still woefully short of what is needed, there have been some breakthroughs: the additional £1.3 billion announced by Justine Greening in 2017, the recent announcement of an extra £350 million to support children with special educational needs, and the partial funding of the teachers’ pay award. It is doubtful that this would have been achieved without the campaigning that has taken place over funding, by ASCL and other organisations, and the public profile of this issue. 

Rest assured that there is no greater priority for us and that we are determined to make sure the government listens and acts in the best interests of schools, colleges, and the children and young people that you serve.

Geoff Barton
ASCL General Secretary

Funding crisis.jpg