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UK: Cuts in school funding come with a high educational cost for disadvantaged students

UK education unions sound the alarm regarding the findings of the recently published Education Policy Institute annual report. The evidence is clear: cutting school funding harms the education achievements of students living in poverty the most.

NEU urges the Government to “commit to proactively reducing child poverty and ending it”

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) report found that the education disadvantage gap has stopped closing and creates a major setback for social mobility. “We shouldn't be surprised by these findings, but they should urgently trigger a change in approach. Cutting school funding dramatically while at the same time driving more families deeper into poverty comes at a high cost for poor and working-class students,” explained National Education Union (NEU) Assistant General Secretary Rosamund McNeil.

McNeil went on to stress that “these trends show that the Government cannot claim success for their education 'reforms'. The new cabinet must think again on education. The Government expects heads and teachers to ‘close the gap’ for disadvantaged pupils whilst ignoring United Nations evidence of how its own policies are widening the poverty gap.”

Calling for change in the governmental approach, McNeil insisted that “the Government must commit to proactively reducing child poverty and commit to ending it. They must also provide what schools need to make education accessible – fair pay rises to retain motivated teachers, reversal of the funding cuts, and a curriculum broad and flexible enough to motivate all learners and respond to the reality of their lives.”

Educators believe that the relentless prioritisation of exam results and endless data is the problem and not the solution. Instead, the Government should focus on supporting students’ emotional well-being and sense of belonging in their school which have been shown to improve their learning outcomes. Pressuring schools to focus on exam preparation and tests is counter-productive for both academic learning and social development. McNeil concluded that “we need to focus on activities like reading for pleasure, more sport and outdoor learning and more art and drama – all are shown to engage students, close the motivation gap and inspire children's interest and commitment to education.”

NASUWT condemnsan education system rife with inequality and injustice”

Chris Keates, Acting General Secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), also pointed out that “nothing in the EPI Report comes as a surprise,” as “it  confirms what the NASUWT has been highlighting from its own research for a number of years.”

Warning that “we now have an education system rife with inequality and injustice”, she underlined that “the key drivers of this are Government social economic and education policies which have led to high levels of child poverty, the fragmentation of the education system, deep cuts to specialist provision vital to schools, the exploitation of the teaching workforce which has generated a national crisis in teacher supply and the rising cost of education, which for too many children now means that access to educational opportunities is based on parents’ ability to pay.”

Keates’ conclusion is far from optimistic: “Despite the wealth of evidence to support this, the Government remains in denial about the damage it has inflicted.”