Primary school budgets: What the general election results mean for your school

By David Leighton 

How will the general election result impact your primary school? An analysis of #GE2017, what it means for your budget, your primary staff, and your Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 pupils with a focus on school budgeting prospects.

Politically, it has been a long week. As the dust settles, primary headteachers, SLT and KS1 & 2 teachers, are undoubtedly considering what the general election results will mean for their primary school. 

At the time of writing, with the Queen’s Speech delayed, there is a degree of ambiguity as to exactly what form the current government will take. However, it looks set to be a Conservative-DUP coalition with majority Conservative and minority of Democratic Unionist Party seats. 

As such, we’ve broken down pledges from the Conservative manifesto to help primary school leaders gauge how the result of the general election will impact their school and budget.

New funding formula: primary school funding set to decrease

The Conservative manifesto argues “fair funding for all schools” and by all accounts it appears that the new funding formula will be implemented as previously planned: “we have begun to correct [unfair funding] and in the next parliament we will make it fairer still”. 

The manifesto promises that “no school has a budget cut as part of the new funding formula,” and to “increase overall schools budget by £4 billion by 2022.” However as this TES article points out, the IFS finds that this would still see school funding fall by 2.8% between 2017-18.  The DfE data also points to a decrease of 8-10% in school funding by 2022.

As such, the reality seems to be that schools across the UK will continue to face budget cuts. As one website notes, by 2022 93% of schools will have per-pupil funding cut, with an average cut of £86,951 for primary schools. 

Free Download:

A Headteacher's Guide to Maximising Your Primary School Budget

Though many schools are already considering their funding prospects, if this isn’t already a priority discussion for your school, it should be. If you haven’t already, check out the school cuts website for a real-time estimation of what cuts your school may face, to the pound. 

To help primary schools maximise their budget, we’ve created a free resource to help headteachers and primary staff do more with less. With guidance from Chris Dyson, Headteacher of Parklands Primary School and former School Inspector, John Dabell, it’s packed with insights to help you make real savings without sacrificing the things that matter.

Reducing KS1 & Ks2 eligibility for free school lunches

The manifesto also states “[w]e do not believe that giving school lunches to all children free of charge for the first 3 years of primary school [...] is a sensible use of public money.” The argument for this is based on “good evidence that school breakfasts are at least as effective in helping children make progress.”

As such the manifesto pledges to only provide a free school lunch to “low-income families” and replace the current lunches with a free school breakfast for all pupils.

This will, of course, have an impact on your staffing. For lunches, staff are already in the building and ready to supervise - breakfast is another matter. Schools will now have to provide childcare for all pupils much earlier on in the day. Whether this is staffed internally or externally is a matter for consideration.

You should also take into account nutritional value of the new breakfasts versus school lunches. Toast and cereal is no substitute for a hot meal, so how might schools get around this?

Help cover the cost of morning staffing with an insight from Headteacher Chris Dyson:

“The first thing I would say to all schools is look at your free school meal allowance. If you have 40% or more pupils on FSM there are so many avenues you can go down (my school is 88%). Apply for ‘The Magic Breakfast’, they provide everything for your breakfast club free of charge: unlimited orange juice from Tropicana, cereal from Kellogg’s, porridge from Scottish Oats, the lot. The free food gets kids in, so our attendance has gone from 91% to just shy of 95% in the last three years. It gets parents in too so they can get involved, which is great for the community aspect of schools too.”

For more insights like these from school leaders on how to save money in your primary school, download the free headteachers guide to maximising your primary budget

Higher grammar school intake from primary schools

The Conservative manifesto has promised to create new grammar schools, stating “[we] will lift the ban on the establishment of selective schools, subject to conditions, such as allowing pupils to join at other ages as well as eleven.” This is on the basis that “while the attainment gap between rich and poor stands at 25% across the country, at selective schools it falls almost to zero.”

The introduction of more grammar schools is not inherently negative, but in primary schools often leads to parents focusing efforts on giving their Year 6 children extra tuition for grammar tests. Or even being taken out of school to sit grammar school exams.

As grammar schools intake a large proportion of the most academically gifted pupils from their local area, this can mean a grade reduction overall for other schools. This may in turn impact on a school’s overall funding.

There is also evidence that setting pupils in groups of similar ability can have a negative effect on attainment overall, for more information read our blog post on mixed ability grouping

Yet, the government has re-appointed of Justine Greening as education secretary. Alongside a decreased Commons majority for the party, many have speculated that this may mean the push to create more grammar schools will take a back-seat for the government. As of yet, it is not clear if this is true.

*Update: As of the 13th of June, it would appear that the introduction of new grammar schools will be taking a back seat as the "Parliamentary arithmetic for ending the legal ban on new grammars does not add up." (TES)

Emphasis on standardised testing for Key Stage 1 & 2 pupils

The Conservative manifesto is emphatic on strengthening “the teaching of literacy and numeracy in the early years.” Included is a pledge to “build on the success of the phonics screening test,” and the expectation for “every 11-year old to know their times tables off by heart.”

For the phonics test, this will mean that schools will have to consider how they approach the tests. Particularly focusing on ensuring pupils from socioeconomically deprived areas are not at a disadvantage.

Schools should also be wary of this being used as a metric to test school performance instead of pupil progress. As there is the potential for schools to be ranked by this performance. 

Moreover, they should focus on ensuring another standardised Maths test does not contribute to ingraining a fixed mindset in pupils. Though the Conservative government promises to “reduce teaching to the test” it appears the responsibility for this will fall to school teachers and leaders. 

As the lay of the land becomes more clear school leaders will be keeping a weather eye on what the forecast is for their primary school. The school cuts website is a good starting place to see how funding cuts may impact your school. 

Headteachers, in particular, should endeavour to focus on the core concepts of their role: that pupils need to read, write, do arithmetic, and have good wellbeing. While there is a degree of uncertainty as to how the future looks for some schools, keep in mind why you work in a school and what your school is for. Namely, your pupils.

As schools face some of the worst budget cuts since the 1970s, we’ve done our very best to save your school money with our brand new flexible programme - Third Space Plus. At less than half the pricing of hiring a new intervention teacher, our programme achieves double expected progress. Includes free curriculum-linked materials and resources tested by teachers and 36 hours of practitioner-led CPD training in Maths. 

Find out more about our low cost, high impact, and cost effective school Maths programme by visiting our Third Space Plus web page

 
Links to further reading: 

As well as our free resource, The Headteacher's Guide to Maximising your Primary Budget we've found the following links incredibly insightful in preparing this blog post. Give them a read if you're looking for more information! 

Free guide: The Headteacher's Guide to Maximising your Primary Budget

Simon Kidwell - School Budgets - “The Toblerone Effect”

Schoot cuts breakdown: Is your school on the list?

TES - Re-appointment of Justine Greening

Day Nurseries - Nurseries in all new primary schools

The Conservative Manifesto

TES - 'Tory school spending would see funding fall to "2010" levels

Leading Learning - 'When you're up against it as a leader'

The Guardian - 'The reality of budget cuts in schools'

TES - '11 plus may be off agenda'

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