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Editorial: The fight for properly resourced schools is a political one

THE High Court’s ruling against families challenging the government’s cuts to special educational needs (Send) funding will disappoint parents and children across the country.

For all the government’s recent announcements of extra cash, there is a huge shortfall to be made up. The Institute for Public Policy Research found in April that Send funding had been cut by over 17 per cent since 2015.

This assault has hit schools already struggling with years of Conservative government cuts . As the School Cuts Alliance notes, four in five schools will be worse off next year than they were in 2015.

Cuts have not just fallen on education budgets. Local authorities have been systematically starved of cash since the Tories took office alongside the Liberal Democrats in 2010.

Between then and the end of the coalition government in 2015, council budgets were slashed by 40 per cent — leading to the cancellation or reduction of essential services by most local authorities.

The pain has only got worse since. Last year, the Local Government Association warned that the revenue support grant (the main source of government funding for local services) would be cut by a further 36 per cent this year, the biggest annual reduction in almost a decade. Nearly half of councils will receive no central government support next year.

This is why NEU joint general secretary Mary Bousted warns that it is no solution to the Send funding crisis to “fob [young people] off to severely underfunded local authorities.”

The withdrawal of funds from councils has actually led to them taking more money from the schools they are responsible for.

After the Tories scrapped the education services grant in 2017, dozens of authorities scrambled to replace the money by taking it from school budgets.

It has also seen services councils provide to schools — from council-employed music tutors to specialist support for children with learning difficulties — cut to the bone.

Boris Johnson’s government is pledging extra money for schools. Chancellor Sajid Javid made an eye-catching promise of an extra £14 billion in August — more like £4.2bn after inflation.

Pledges to increase schools funding came from several hopefuls during the race to succeed Theresa May when she stood down earlier in the summer.

That’s partly the legacy of dogged campaigning by teaching unions. Resources like the School Cuts website, set up before the last election by the NEU and other education unions, made it easy for parents to check how much money their local school had lost.

Building on impressive community mobilisation in initiatives such as Stand Up For Education, the School Cuts campaign switched an estimated 795,000 votes in 2017. 

School cuts affect almost every constituency — though as usual the Tories have piled the most misery on the poorest, predominately Labour-voting areas — and MPs faced growing anger from their constituents on the issue.

The chaos caused by Tory cuts to the justice or prison systems is just as severe, but ministers are better able to hide the grim consequences from the majority of voters.

This makes education a key battleground in the battle to defeat austerity.

But the funding squeeze affecting schools cannot be challenged in isolation. The network of services provided by local authorities needs to be restored and improved.

And the lack of support for disabled children and those with special needs has come alongside a wider war on Britain’s disabled people by the Department for Work and Pensions. 

Families fighting for their children are right to use every possible avenue to advance that fight. But ensuring every child gets the education they deserve is not a battle that can be won through the courts.

It requires political change — an end to austerity and a government prepared to invest in and plan for the requirements of whole communities.

The High Court’s verdict is a defeat, but legendary labour activist Joe Hill’s famous maxim can inform our response. Don’t mourn — organise.


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