Angela Rayner: Cuts are stretching further education to breaking point
From adults in further education to children in their classrooms, government cuts to education are damaging people’s life chances, writes Angela Rayner
If, like me, you spend too much time in the House of Commons, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the only area of education policy was higher education, and that tuition fees were the main item of education spending.
This is not the case. Universities educate the smallest proportion of students anywhere in the education system. It’s in other areas where cuts have started to bite.
Schools have been the first to feel the pinch. According to the National Education Union, 88% of schools are facing real-terms budget cuts per pupil between 2015-16 and 2019-20. Parents are increasingly being asked to make financial contributions just to keep schools running.
There have been some suggestions from government MPs that this had been a politically motivated act of teachers and unions. This is very unfair: teachers are simply trying to do the best they can, with diminishing resources.
Those making such accusations at teachers and unions may want to reflect at the work done by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Education Policy Institute and the National Audit Office, who have all released findings that show that school budgets were being cut for the first time in decades.
I hope that the secretary of state agrees with me, and it seems she may well do, having announced an extra £1.3bn for schools from 2018-2020. Nobody in my position as shadow secretary of state for education would fail to welcome this, and I am glad the secretary of state is beginning to face up to the scale of the challenges facing our schools.
However, the secretary of state’s plans simply do not go far enough. Having done nothing to reverse the £2.7bn that has been cut from school budgets since 2015, the additional funding will simply create a new status quo. This means school funding is lower across the board than it was two years ago, with headteachers and school leaders struggling to make ends meet. And while a new national funding formula where no school loses out is welcome, it is not enough to compensate the schools across the country that are facing severe budget cuts.
Outside of the school gates, there is one other area of education spending being stretched to breaking point.
Further education, despite educating four million people a year, has too often been the poor relation of the education family; too often seen by the government as something that isn’t a priority, too often viewed as a way for ministers to make an easy cut in spending. Perhaps it’s because further education is so far outside their own experience and the lives of the people they know?
Unfortunately, these cuts have severe consequences. Further Education isn’t just a route for those who don’t get the chance to go to university. It’s an invaluable second chance, a lifeline that helps people gain new skills, and open the door to new opportunities. It’s something we should hold in equal esteem to academic education.
For me, it is impossible to even imagine where my life would have been without further education. I know, though, that I wouldn’t be in the position I am now.
The fact is, education funding is not simply ‘spending’. It’s an investment in the people of this country; in their futures, in their skills, and in the businesses and public services that rely on them.
Until the government realises this, I fear that we will continue to see cuts to education funding across the country.
Angela Rayner is Labour MP for Ashton under Lyne, North West and shadow secretary of state for education