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Use falling rolls to raise per-pupil funding, says ASCL

Political parties should commit to keeping school funding at the same level despite falling rolls, and use the headroom to boost per-pupil funding and money for disadvantaged children, ASCL’s leader will say today.

In his final address to the union’s annual conference before stepping down in April, Geoff Barton said such a policy “would make a world of difference to children and young people, and particularly those from disadvantaged homes”.

Pupil numbers are expected to fall by around 10 per cent over the next decade, as a population bulge caused by the 2000s baby boom makes its way into adulthood.

Falling primary numbers are already forcing councils, particularly in London, to plan mergers and closures, because emergency cash for falling rolls is available only if schools can demonstrate that demand will increase again.

This week, the government confirmed the next spending review won’t take place until after the next election, kicking any decision on raising revenue funding for schools into the autumn or even into early 2025 if a vote is called at the last possible point.

It means schools will prepare their three-year budget forecasts this summer with no knowledge of what funding they will get beyond next March. Labour has also remained silent about what it will do about funding, citing the dire financial situation it expects to inherit.

‘A golden opportunity’

Barton, who has led ASCL since 2017, will tell the conference tomorrow that he understands “money is tight”.

“But there is something that politicians from all sides can and should commit to over the course of the next parliament which is affordable, and which would make a huge difference.

“Population estimates predict that the number of pupils in England’s schools will fall by half a million over the next five years. It adds up to a huge – multi-billion-pound – saving.

“So, instead of raking this money back into the Treasury – there is a golden opportunity to put education on a more sustainable footing.”

He will say government should “use this money to raise the rate of per-pupil funding, and the pupil premium”.

“It’s a policy that costs nothing – or at least nothing extra – but it would make a world of difference to children and young people, and particularly those from disadvantaged homes.”

Half of teachers work in classrooms that are too hot

He will also call for “learning environments to be fit for learning”, after leaders reported scorching hot and freezing classrooms, poor electrics and leaking ceilings.

This week’s budget also confirmed that the government underspent on capital projects – most of which relate to school building and maintenance – by £700 million this year.

Ministers have also not said what future investment will look like, though they have pledged to address the RAAC concrete crisis.

A survey by Teacher Tapp for ASCL found 57 per cent of teachers and leaders had taught in classrooms that were too hot in summer due to poor ventilation, while 28 per cent reported being too cold in winter because of inadequate heating.

Nineteen per cent reported poor electrics affecting mains switch panels, lighting, IT infrastructure and other issues, while 15 per cent said they had leaking ceilings.

Survey app Teacher Tapp conducted a survey for ASCL asking teachers and leaders about the condition of the classroom they had most recently taught in. Of 8,585 respondents in state-funded primary and secondary schools in England, the results were: 

Barton will say: “Not only has capital investment been wholly inadequate but tortuous funding systems mean many schools have to scrabble for cash through a bidding process – just to afford the cost of basic repairs and maintenance.

“It is surely obvious that government has to do better than this – that learning environments have to be fit for learning.”

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