Back in 1997, the incoming Blair government inherited a legacy of school buildings, many of which were simply unfit. School governors, teachers, children and parents would tell of the daily battle to prevent the rain coming in and the ceiling falling down.
As well as implementing a massive re-building, replacement and major modernisation programme, that government also invested in raising standards. At every level, expectations were raised, programmes were delivered, and achievement and outcomes rose considerably.
During the last Coalition government, thoughtful and considered investment was mainly displaced by Michael Gove’s bellicose statements. Although the pupil premium was welcome, the ideologically-driven and grossly inefficient Free Schools’ programme created more school places in areas which already had surpluses and denied investment in areas where there were simply insufficient and children were being forced to travel many miles to go to school..
Mr Gove scrapped the Building Schools for the Future programme and replaced it with the Priority Schools Building Programme, with lower space, material and resource standards. He promised 537 new schools. Just 25 have been delivered in 5 years.
Mr Cameron has made much of his promise to protect the funding per pupil over the next parliament. Of course, this is a cash protection promise and it doesn’t include the pupil premium or other school funds; there’s no allowance for inflation, nor is there any allowance for the additional national insurance and pension contributions that will have to be made following other government decisions.
Taken together, this means an average minimum 10% real cut in school budgets by 2020.
As the Conservative Chair of the Education Select Committee concluded:
"You are seeing schools facing up to prospects of deficits unless they don't take significant action to reduce headcount… We will potentially be looking at redundancies in order to cope with the funding pressures."
However, the prospects for Sheffield school budgets are worse. The government has committed to introducing a new national funding formula. Mr Cameron has already promised a redistribution towards rural and southern areas. This inevitably means that the poorest areas nationally will be hit hardest.