Schools in the red: Underfunding hits Tower Hamlets, Hackney, and Lewisham

Mossbourne Academy, Downs Park Road Pic; Mossbourne Academy
Mossbourne Academy has lost £872 per pupil in real terms since 2015, Downs Park Road
Pic: Mossbourne Academy

In the first of a two part examination of the crises affecting the education system, Gina Gambetta looks at the chronic underfunding of local schools after nearly a decade of austerity. Tomorrow: Truancy in our schools

Schools across Eastlondonlines boroughs are amongst the most affected by underfunding in the country, according to research by the National Education Union.  They say this is increasingly impacting the quality of education that children receive and putting strain on councils.

The ‘Stop School Cuts‘ campaign, managed by a coalition of unions including the NEU, NAHTASCLUNISONUNITE, and MUSICIANS UNION, recently released a report that detail how much funding English schools have lost per pupil since 2015 and the overall shortfall of what is needed to protect each pupil’s funding, in real terms, in the schools in 2020. The campaign also created a live dataset which updates the figures in relation to inflation. 

Poplar and Limehouse schools as represented on Stop School Cuts dataset
Pic: Stop School Cuts

Across Eastlondonlines boroughs, the area most affected by the cuts is Poplar and Limehouse in Tower Hamlets, which ranked nationally as the second hardest hit. According to the data, on average, the constituency’s schools have lost £756 per pupil between 2015-2020. This means there will be a shortfall of £15.7 million in 2020. 

Figures showed that even successful schools like Mayflower Primary School, in Poplar, which took the number one spot on The Sunday Times’ list of the top 250 state and independent primary schools in England, are struggling. According to the study, the school has already lost £509 per pupil.   

The other boroughs are also facing a tight squeeze as constituencies in Lewisham, Hackney, and Tower Hamlets are among the top fifty most affected. Hackney North and Stoke Newington ranked just behind Poplar and Limehouse as the third hardest hit area; Bethnal Green & Bow ranked sixth, Hackney South and Shoreditch at eleventh, Lewisham East at 27th, and Lewisham West and Penge at 48th.  

A comparative graph showing the change in per pupil funding from 2015-2016 to 2018-2019 in Eastlondonlines constituencies. Pic: Gina Gambetta 
A comparative graph showing the projected shortfalls in 2020 in Eastlondonlines constituencies. Pic: Gina Gambetta 

The three schools with the largest reduction in funding in each constituency were contacted by Eastlondonlines for comment, but did not respond for comment by the time of publication.  

Oaklands School, Old Bethnal Green Road, has lost more than £1000 per pupil in real terms since 2015 Pic: Gordon Joly

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of ASCL union, told Eastlondonlines: “As a result [of the funding shortfall], schools have had to make severe cuts which have impacted on courses, student support, enrichment activities, classroom resources and maintenance. Class sizes have risen and many schools are in financial deficit.” 

Councillors admit this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. 

Tower Hamlets Councillor Danny Hassell, Labour Cabinet Member for Children, Schools and Young People, told Eastlondonlines: “We are incredibly concerned about the impact of these cuts on schools and our children’s education.  It will mean schools will find it harder to maintain the high standards and levels of progress that our schools here in Tower Hamlets are known for.” 

Cayley Primary School, Aston Street, has lost approximately £600 per pupil in real terms since 2015. Pic: Gina Gambetta

It can be argued the problem is out of the council’s hands as it is a result of central Government’s former policy of austerity although the Conservatives have now signalled this has come to an end; local authority education spending is directly funded by the Government.

Lewisham Councillor Chris Barnham, Labour Cabinet Member for School Performance and Children’s Services, told Eastlondonlines: “Tory Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has claimed that the Government is providing ‘the biggest funding boost for schools in a decade which will give every school more money for every child.’ But these figures show the reality.” 

Despite the Conservative’s promise to boost school funding by £14 billion if they remain in power, the NEU is sceptical.  

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, said: “Boris Johnson’s promises on school funding will not fix the roof – it is too little, too late.” 

Tower Hamlets Conservatives Party told Eastlondonlines lines: “Thanks to this major investment, each secondary school will receive a minimum of £5,000 per pupil next academic year and each primary school will receive a minimum of £3,750.”

As the above chart clearly shows these figures are in fact less than what all ELL constituencies, bar Croydon South, already have and expect to have.

Tower Hamlets Councillor Andrew Wood told Eastlondonlines: “Overall school funding has increased in real terms, but pupil numbers and costs [salary increases and pensions especially] have increased faster which means funding per pupil has fallen.” 

However, he questioned the significance of the problem in Tower Hamlets and the clarity of the data.  

Wood continued: “Labour Bethnal Green and Bow got £6,893 per pupil. York Outer £3,812 per pupil, a 181% difference. Yes, teacher costs are higher in London but not by 181%.” 

So which party has the solution? 

Chisenhale Primary School, Chisenhale Road, leading up to 2014 election Pic: James Sullivan

Luke Sibieta, Research Fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, told Eastlondonlines: “Conservative plans for a total increase of £7.1bn up to 2022 would then near enough reverse the picture of real-terms cuts over the last decade. However, this would still leave spending per pupil about the same level in 2022 as it was 13 years earlier in 2009. This represents a substantial squeeze on school resources as compared with recent history. The Liberal Democrats have proposed a slightly larger funding increase, whilst Labour would provide an even larger increase of £10.5bn.” 

Although Croydon’s constituencies and Lewisham Deptford are not in the top fifty most affected areas, as the chart shows, they are still suffering.  

Across the country, 83% of schools will have less money per pupil in April 2020, in real terms, than they had in 2015. 

Education is a growing focal point of the general election; an NEU survey released this week found it was the third most important issue concerning the public after the NHS and Brexit. 

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