Minister of State (Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education)
The Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP
11 July 2023
I am writing to raise concerns about the lack of investment in schools and further education. Under-investment in education is having a direct impact on children, learners, and support staff, many of whom are underpaid and have excessive workloads. This in turn has a huge impact on the life chances of young people today and damages the country’s ability to train our future workforce and build a future facing green economy.
In schools, funding remains below 2010 levels, even with the increased money promised in the 2022 Autumn Statement. Independent funding analysis commissioned by UNISON shows that this means:
• A pupil who started school in 2010, will have lost out on £5,384 of funding as a result of government cuts and inflation.
• Between 2010/11 and 2022/23, per pupil spending fell from £7,274 to £6,982 - a drop of 4%.
The knock on effects are numerous and well documented, but I want to particularly highlight that neglected infrastructure negatively impacts the learning environment and student well-being. Without sufficient funds for maintenance, renovation, and expansion of infrastructure, schools in my constituency are unable to ensure safe and well-equipped learning environments that promote student well-being and engagement. In short, a lack of funding has left many school buildings in a dangerous state of repair.
I also want to draw your attention to how under-investment in our schools has a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged young people, who often require additional support and resources to overcome barriers and achieve academic success. Funding cuts limit access to necessary interventions, such as targeted support for struggling students or enrichment programs for those with exceptional abilities, thereby widening the educational attainment gap. Moreover, schools in economically disadvantaged areas face greater challenges due to limited resources, perpetuating educational inequality and hindering social mobility. As eg the OECD has made clear, adequate funding is essential to ensure that all students, regardless of their background or location, have access to a high-quality education.
The funding gap is impacting on colleges in my constituency too, including Brighton MET college, and is constraining colleges from delivering both on Government priorities (including T Levels, Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs) and apprenticeships) and from meeting employer need and learner demands.
In its 2022 annual report for education, the Institute of Fiscal Studies said that “Further education colleges and sixth forms are in a particularly difficult position at present. They saw larger cuts than other areas of education after 2010 and there was no extra funding announced in the 2022 Autumn Statement to help colleges and sixth forms cope with larger-than-expected cost increases.” Recent uplifts only reverse a fraction of past cuts, and colleges are losing staff because they cannot match the pay in other sectors.
Brighton MET college tell me:
We have found we are under increasing pressure to provide staff with market supplements to address the risk of them leaving FE to work in schools and other sectors where their skills and experience can be financially more rewarded. This puts ever more continued pressure on the both the retention and recruitment of staff and adds enormous challenge to maintenance of a broad curriculum that meets the needs of students and employers alike. This challenge is particularly evident in construction, digital and media teaching posts. A further, and very considerable, challenge is the retention and recruitment of pastoral roles, for which schools and universities are able to offer much more substantive salaries.
The current funding situation is unsustainable for our schools and colleges, bad for our country’s long term economic prospects, and letting down our young people. The Government needs to urgently start investing in the future and to close the funding gaps that are causing so much damage.