The DfE have written to the Chair of the Education Select Committee saying that they are not now in a position to comment on the development of a new national Funding formula when the Minister appears in front of the Committee next week. The reason given is that there were over 6,000 responses to the first stage consultation and officials haven’t finished analysing them yet. Ho hum, so what were they all doing during the period of purdah?
The response for the chairman of the Committee reflected anxiety that the timetable for introduction may now slip, even if there isn’t a general election in the autumn. After all, any changes for 2017 that affected maintained schools would need to be approved by Schools Forums across the county in the autumn term, ready for introduction in April. Such a timetable is looking unrealistic now and impossible if it needs the approval of a new Prime Minister if one isn’t in post until September and even then such a timetable assumes that the current ministerial team remain in place.
However, even more urgent, is the publication of the 26th STRB Report and the DfE’s response that has now taken over two months to formulate since they received the report at the end of April. Schools need to know how much they will have to pay staff from September. Even where schools have freedom to pay what they like, the churn that could result from some schools, with more cash, paying more than others won’t help create the stability that the system needs at the present time.
The government’s whole education strategy as outlined in the March White Paper now looks as it could suffer the same fate as the contents of Mrs Thatcher’s famous White Paper, ‘Education: framework for expansion’ that was scuppered by the economic crisis of 1973 onwards. It is not clear whether or not there will be an economic crisis now, but a political one there certainly is across both of the two traditional ruling parties.
Whether the news of the easing of the fiscal rules so as not to need to eradicate the deficit by the end of this parliament will be good news for education it is too early to say. However, if capital projects get the nod for expansion, school buildings have the advantage that they can be built in any part of the country. Even where pupil numbers aren’t increasing as fast as in the south of England, there are always old buildings to replace. After all, it was in 1969 that a Labour government first announced a plan to re-build all pre-1906 schools. A revival of such an idea in order to help unemployed builders in the regions might go down better than, say, pushing ahead with HST2, however desirable that project is in the long-run.
Unless there are a rush of announcements over the next few weeks, schools will start their summer break facing an unprecedented level of uncertainty. Not a good place to be.