UK Budget 2021: Rishi Sunak has ‘failed’ to value education and catch-up funding ‘nowhere near enough’

Catch-up funding for schools after the Covid pandemic is “nowhere near enough” and Rishi Sunak’s Budget has “failed” to value education, NationalWorld has been told.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced in the Budget that schools will get an extra £4.7 billion by 2024/25, with just under £2 billion of new funding to help with the recovery from Covid.

The Chancellor said: “Combined with the ambitious plans we announced at Spending Review 2019, this will restore per pupil funding to 2010 levels in real terms - equivalent to a cash increase for every pupil of more than £1,500.”

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For children with special educational needs and disabilities, the Government is also more than tripling the amount it invests in order to create 30,000 new school places.

He added: “We’ve already announced £3.1 billion to help education recovery. Today, as promised by the Prime Minister and Education Secretary, we will go further - with just under £2 billion of new funding to help schools and colleges - bringing this Government’s total support for education recovery to almost £5 billion.”

But what have key education unions and think tanks said in response to the Budget - and do they think more could be done?

‘Completely inadequate’

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the Chancellor has “failed” to value education in the Budget.

He said: "Today, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak had a historic opportunity to value education and value educators. Despite his rhetoric he has failed.”

Mr Courtney said the Chancellor is “still determined that education recovery will be done on the cheap,” but that this “short-sightedness will damage the life chances of young people for many years to come”.

He also said free school meals not being expanded is a “further disappointment”, as  “no child should be coming to school too hungry to learn”.

"With just £2 billion added, the Government’s plan for education recovery is completely inadequate,” he added.

UNISON assistant general secretary, Jon Richards, echoed this, as he told NationalWorld: “Catch-up funding is nowhere near enough. This new £5bn total is still just a third of what the government’s own tsar said was needed.

“A gaping learning divide is already emerging. Children in low-income areas are increasingly falling behind due to missed schooling.

“If the government is serious about ‘levelling up’, a properly funded programme to get pupils back on track – with measures such as a longer school day – can’t be ignored.”

Analysis from think tank the Education Policy Institute (EPI) following the Budget announcement found that government funding to support education recovery from the pandemic falls short of the level required to address pupil learning losses.

EPI research has found that a total funding package of around £13.5bn over three years will be required from the Government to effectively address learning losses in England, which in turn are likely to adversely affect pupils’ future earnings and the economy.

Responding to the Spending Review and the Chancellor’s announcements on education recovery, Whitney Crenna-Jennings, Associate Director at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said: "We know from our research that pupils have experienced considerable learning losses as a result of the pandemic, with those from disadvantaged backgrounds suffering greater losses than their peers.

“Additional funding from the government to support pupils’ recovery now stands at around £4.9bn – that’s around £490 per pupil. While this extra investment to support pupils is a positive development, it’s still some way off the £13.5bn that our research has shown is needed to reverse the damage done to children’s education."

This is further highlighted by think tank the Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY) think tank, who told NationalWorld it is “concerned that today’s injection of £4.7bn for schools in the context of the pandemic does not go far enough to address the needs of young people, and misses some real opportunities.”

‘The deepening crisis in teacher morale’

Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the teachers’ union NASUWT, said teachers “would be right to be underwhelmed by the Chancellor’s announcements today”.

Dr Roach said the Chancellor’s announcement “does not provide schools with the money they need now to meet the acute demands from pupils whose learning has been seriously disrupted by the pandemic”.

“Schools and teachers are in need of immediate investment, not promises for the future, if they are to deliver the best opportunities and life chances for children and young people,” he added.

As well as the lack of immediate investment for schools, Dr Roach said Mr Sunak’s promise of fair and affordable pay rises over the next three years “will not address the very acute pressures currently faced by teachers”.

This included a 17% real term cut to teachers’ pay over the last decade, rising cost of living pressures and, from next April, further increases in National Insurance Contributions, he said.

“Today’s announcement by the Chancellor falls short of what is needed to address the deepening crisis in teacher morale,” he added.