The Education Secretary failed to mention early years education during his speech at the Conservative party conference today.
Addressing delegates in Manchester, Gavin Williamson pledged to ‘super-charge’ further education, by investing in technical and vocational education and apprenticeships, but made no reference to supporting developments in early years.
In his opening address, he said: ‘As Conservatives, we have an incredible story to tell about what we’re doing for young people.’
‘From working parents with three and four-year-olds, 30 hours a week of free childcare, better schools with 85 per cent of children taught in good or outstanding schools, that’s up from 66 per cent under the last labour government and we’re helping young people whatever their background, wherever they come from.’
Mr Williamson reiterated the Government’s pledge from the spending round in September to invest more in schools. He said: ‘When the prime minister entered 10 Downing Street, he made sure that one of his first acts was to keep his promise.
‘His promise was to make sure that there is fair funding for all of our schools, so we’re investing an extra £14bn over three years. We will level up funding right across the country. From the next academic year… all primary schools will receive at least £3,750 per pupil, rising to £4,000 the year after.’
While the Government promised an extra £66m towards early years in the spending round at the beginning of September, several early years organisations have raised the concern that this is a small dent in the £662m funding gap currently facing the sector.
Jonathan Broadbery, head of policy and external relations at National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said: ‘Today the Education Secretary had very little to say about early years, a vital stage of a child’s learning and development that lays the foundation for their opportunities and outcomes later in life.
‘This speech failed to address the fact that funding rates have stagnated for the last four years, which is now threatening the sustainability of many providers. The funded hours are not free for parents or providers and the Government needs to recognise this and invest in early education in a way that will support efforts to improve quality and outcomes, not short-change the sector expecting more for less.’
Four in five schools worse off under Government spending plans
Gavin Williamson's speech coincides with the news that schools will continue to struggle under Government spending plans.
Analysis has shown that over 80 per cent of schools, equivalent to around 16,000, will have less money per pupil in 2020 in real terms than they did in 2015.
Despite promises by Boris Johnson to invest more in schools, the analysis by the School Cuts coalition has found that the allocation to schools in 2020/21 still needs £2.5bn to reverse the damage caused by cuts in funding.
It was also found that around one third of all schools will see real-terms cuts to their budgets next year because school costs are greater than inflation.
The Government has pledged £700m to support children with special educational needs and disabilities but the analysis shows that SEND will still be £1.5bn short of what is needed to properly support vulnerable children and young people.
The School Cuts coalition is calling on the Government to honour its funding pledge and reverse the cuts which started to be made in 2015. It will relaunch its website with updated school-by-school figures once the Government releases next year’s funding allocations, to give a more detailed understanding of funding shortages.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘After years of denying that there is a school funding crisis the government has finally done the right thing by investing desperately needed extra money into our beleaguered education system.
‘But analysis by the School Cuts coalition shows the additional funding is not enough to repair the damage that has been done to our schools and colleges and that further investment is required. We are not being churlish, we are just stating the facts. The funding crisis is not over.’
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of National Education Union, commented: ‘For years, our heads, teachers and school staff have done all they can to mitigate the impact on children. But the buck stops with the government. Prime Minister Johnson has made lots of empty promises on school funding – but his numbers don’t add up.
‘The latest funding announcement falls well short of settling the shortfall for every child. And crucially it fails to reverse the cuts schools have suffered since 2015. It’s unthinkable that our schools have to go on like this – losing support staff, shedding subjects and cutting back on basic maintenance just to balance the books. We are calling on the Prime Minister to put the money where his mouth is and end the funding crisis in education once and for all.’