In September 2018, the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported that there had been an 8 per cent cut in total school funding per pupil since 2010, a figure that even special advisers at the Department for Education don’t try to dispute. Around two thousand headteachers marched to Downing Street in a protest over funding. There has been a steady drip of stories of teachers buying materials, clothing and food for their pupils. Many schools have been forced to adopt four-day weeks. The money that the new chancellor, Sajid Javid, promised in last week’s spending review would bring funding back up only to 2009-10 levels, and the policy of ‘levelling up schools across the country’, announced by Boris Johnson at the end of August, means more of the money would go to schools that need it less (often, as it happens, in Conservative constituencies). Gavin Williamson, in his first speech to Parliament as Johnson’s education secretary, called for a return to ‘the Victorian spirit of ingenuity’.
The Trussell Trust runs a network of over 400 food banks. Earlier this month, it reported that a spike in demand for its food parcels last summer was due to ‘holiday hunger’ among children entitled to free school meals. The all-party parliamentary group on hunger warned last year that as many as three million children are at risk of going hungry during the summer holidays.
George Osborne announced in the budget that all remaining local authority schools in England must become academies by 2022. The Education and Adoption Act 2016 will compel councils and school governors to co-operate in the forced academisation of eligible schools; remove any requirement for consultation with parents, governors or local authorities; and allow the education secretary to control the make-up of the ‘interim executive boards’ that oversee a school’s conversion into an academy. An amendment tabled by Labour peers, requiring that parents and others be consulted on academy conversions, was defeated by Conservative MPs.
As another teacher said to me recently, one of the scariest words in the jargon of school managers is ‘support’. The government’s plan to ‘support and challenge’ English state schools – the Education and Adoption Bill, which has now passed the committee stage – is very scary indeed. There are 21,500 state-funded schools in England; nearly 5000 of them are academies. Each one is under the control of a trust or private limited company, and each trust has an individual funding agreement with the education secretary to establish and maintain academies. When a local authority school is converted into an academy, once the contract is signed, local government stewardship, with its bothersome requirements for consultation and public oversight, is at an end.
Wey Education PLC is proposing ‘one of the most significant and exciting innovations within state education for a generation’. This is the Wey ecademy, ‘England’s first state online school’. According to the ‘trading update’ in the company’s latest report on results, the ‘virtual’ school will be able to offer a wider curriculum than any traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ school, and will offer full access to all applicants irrespective of their background, postcode, social situation, beliefs or previous experience within education. The virtual school, an interesting feature of American public education, may soon arrive in England – subject to approval by the DfE.
Last Thursday, a leaked Department for Education memo was published. Written in October 2013 by Dominic Cummings, one of Michael Gove’s special advisers, it expressed ‘serious concerns’ about the performance of Ofsted and its chief inspector, Michael Wilshaw: ‘No element of human life that works well – e.g. Silicon Valley – works on an Ofsted basis.'