Budget 2016: summary of announcements and commentary
It was designed to be the Budget for the ‘next generation’. The repetition of the phrase by George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Budget speech yesterday suggested some acknowledgement that voters – Tory or otherwise – were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their children’s prospects under this government.
It has certainly been some years since education featured so heavily in a Budget but what was interesting was that the occasion was used to announce the mass academisation of the nation’s state schools – especially as no details were given about how much such an exercise will cost, or what money will be saved by cutting out layers of local government. The announcement therefore appeared more driven by ideological than financial considerations.
The main features for children and education of Budget 2016 were as follows:
- All schools are to become academies by 2022, with those resisting having an order put in place forcing them to do so. The move is intended to ‘drive up standards and set schools free from the shackles of local bureaucracy’, the Chancellor said
- Around £20 million a year is to be set aside to improve education standards in the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ which is lagging behind the rest of the country
- An additional £500 million will be spent speeding up the introduction of the national school funding formula, with 90% of schools benefitting from this by the end of this parliament
- All students may be forced learn maths up to the age of 18
- Around a quarter of schools will receive a share of £285 million to help them extend the school day, and end the ‘Victorian tradition’ of ending the school day at 3.30pm. The additional time will be spent on activities such as sport and art
- From September 2017, £10 million will be spent on expanding breakfast clubs
- PE and sport premium funding for primary schools will rise from £160 million to £320 million a year, from September 2017, with the money being raised by a sugar levy on the soft drinks industry
- A mentoring scheme, costing £14 million is to be introduced for disadvantaged teenagers
Not surprisingly, perhaps, it was the academisation plans that attracted the fiercest and most sceptical responses. Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “Young people will ask how changing the sign above the door will ensure their school helps them develop the skills they need in future life and work. Parents will ask how fiddling with structures helps ensure there are enough qualified teachers to teach their children and enough school places available in the local area. Teachers will ask how the government will support ‘academies’ to address the serious issue of children’s mental health, which ministers’ schools policies have exacerbated.”
The proposals are particularly concerning for special schools. Mark Lever, CEO of The National Autistic Society (NAS), said: "The government must explain how its plan to make all schools in England become academies will affect children with special educational needs, including autism. Local councils will continue to be responsible for making sure the most vulnerable children in their area get the education they deserve but they'll have to do this without having any control over local schools. They're also going to have to cope with a new school funding formula being introduced by the government which may reduce funding for children with complex needs in certain areas.”
The proposal for every student to learn maths until 18 was also not without concern. Malcolm Trobe, Interim General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We need to understand why the government’s new reformed maths GCSE is not felt sufficient for the needs of young people. We would also question where the extra maths teachers would be found given the current recruitment crisis.”
Plans for more breakfast clubs and extra-curricular activities, meanwhile, were cautiously welcomed. Imelda Redmond, CEO of the charity 4Children, said the move would be ‘well received by thousands of families who struggle to find suitable out-of-school childcare for their children’. But she added: “The plan must be properly resourced so that children are not stuck behind desks but are encouraged to take part in artistic, creative or sporting activities that signal a genuine contrast with the rest of the school day. This funding should be directed at schools in the most disadvantaged areas so that families with the greatest need benefit first.”
But the impact of further benefit cuts on some of the most vulnerable in society, passed by MPs earlier in the week and confirmed by George Osborne yesterday, would drive more children into poverty, warned Anna Feuchtwang, CEO of the National Children’s Bureau, despite the government’s attempts to be seen to be investing in education.
She said: “This so-called ‘next generation’ budget masks the fact that severe spending cuts will continue to hit poor and disadvantaged children the hardest – those who the government should be doing the upmost to support.”