Will The General Election Have An Impact On Education?
The Law Of… understanding the impact of the General Election
On Wednesday, 19th April, Theresa May stood outside 10 Downing Street and announced that she would be calling a snap General Election, and that it would place this summer, on Thursday, 8th June.
The decision may have shocked some, and came as no surprise to others – what could this mean for the children on the UK, and what impact will it have on their education?
Alex Kelly, Legal Advisor in Education at Simpson Millar, explores the impact of the snap election on education.
What Educational Issues Are Likely To Arise In The Election?
Grammar schools are already a hot topic of debate in the media, and it is evident that Theresa May will be pushing this policy as part of her election campaign. Mrs May also faces challenges over funding for schools and Local Authorities.
Opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has floated the idea of a National Education Service, based on the National Health Service (NHS) that will oversee education and skills from birth to adulthood. Key to this policy is that education should be free at the point of use.
Corbyn has also stated that he would like to remove the charitable status set for private schools, imposing VAT on the fees they charge. The proceeds from this would ensure every primary school child in England has access to free school meals.
He has also challenged the government over class sizes, claiming that Conservative cuts are causing these to grow. He reported that 40,000 primary age children were in class sizes of 36 or more in England. The Conservatives have claimed that class sizes in Wales, which has a Labour-led, devolved government, have spiraled out of control.
It appears as though issues relating to education could be a key domestic policy battle in the general election, with the debate already focusing on funding and the effect the current funding formula is having on schools.
"Perhaps the most concerning thing for someone, such as myself, who works to solve educational issues for clients every day, is that biggest stumbling block at this general election is not education, but the impact of Brexit. With tensions still running high over leaving the European Union, educational issues may only play a minor role in the discussions."
What Are The Challenges Over Funding For Schools And Local Authorities?
Maintained schools in England are facing a real-terms budget cut of 8% by 2020, meaning savings will have to be made from somewhere.
Recent news reports confirm head teachers have been communicating with parents about the need to tighten the purse strings. The National Audit Office announced that the pressures on schools will come from pay rises, national insurance, and pension payments over the coming years.
Aiding these pressures the new national funding formula, announced by Secretary of State, Justine Greening, in December will see 9,128 lose out on funding, hitting schools in London especially hard. The Conservative government has suggested that this funding formula is fairer and benefits those from disadvantaged areas. However, even the schools that would benefit from the new system risk seeing their increased income outweighed by real-terms cuts to their funding over the next three years.
Alex goes on to say:
"There is a real danger – as with any funding crisis in public services – that the vulnerable will feel the sharp edge of these changes. While the education budget is ring-fenced in terms of the specific amount of money set aside for it a year, money spent on individual pupils does not increase with inflation, meaning increasing costs and real terms price increases have a huge impact on schools."
What Impact Could This Have On Pupils With SEN?
In March, the Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 Local Authorities, suggested that a lack of real terms increase in funding could lead to mainstream schools turning away children with special educational needs (SEN).
Local Authorities have little flexibility to top up budgets for children with SEN due to pressures to make efficiency savings across the board.
Information from the Department of Education reveals that:
- There has been a significant increase over the last four years of SEN pupils attending specialist schools – the number has risen from 5.6% in 2012 to 8.5% in 2016.
- The proportion of SEN pupils in independent schools has also increased, from 4.5% in 2012 to 6.3% last year.
"Addressing the real terms cuts in education and SEN funding will be vital for the new government; offering good mainstream schools that can effectively meet the needs of children with SEN is needed for long-term sustainability."
"If mainstream schools start to turn away children with SEN, parents could have grounds to challenge this legally. It is likely to increase pressure on special and independent schools that may be expected to admit these pupils instead."
"A funding gap could see Local Authorities become stubborn in terms of providing EHC Plans; a shortage of money could see SEN departments closing shop and making it difficult for parents to get a Plan for their child. This would be to the detriment of those children who need provision beyond what can be expected to be provided for from the school budget."
"If this does happen, the further pressure on mainstream schools, both financially and with regards to attainment, could be severe."
What Can I Do If The Funding Cuts Impact On My Child With SEN?
If your child is refused admission to a mainstream school; has provision cut; is refused an EHCP; or if you have any other concerns that their special educational needs are not being met please contact our Education Law team who will be happy to assist you.