Autumn Statement: flash the cash beyond the school gates


21st November 2023

Leaves are falling. I feel like hibernating. And the chancellor is up for speaking. Nothing says autumn like an Autumn Statement. 

Autumn Statements are chances to tweak, not transform. Unlike the Comprehensive Spending Review (where more radical, long-term ideas can be taken forward), these statements tend not to be too disruptive to departmental spending plans. Unless the post-election government is in the mood for ripping them up and starting again, the spending commitments in this Wednesday’s statement will last until at least 2025. 

As a member of the Fair Education Alliance,  CfEY is proud to support their calls for the statement to announce increased investment in early years and schools. Our 2022 Levelling Up Tutoring report called for a one-year funding extension to the National Tutoring Programme, and we believe that a final year of national subsidy is still justified and necessary. We are also starting some urgent work on the longer-term future of tutoring beyond the programme (DM me if you are interested).

CfEY is calling on the Government to use the autumn statement to increase investment in extra curricular enrichment activities, youth services, and targeted mentoring that can support young people, especially the most vulnerable Click To Tweet

In education, government funding levers can feel pretty weak. Yes, you can give more or less money to schools, but it is very difficult to force them to spend money in ways you might want – most of this compulsion comes from other regulation and accountability levers. This is even true for those academies and MATs which national government (bizarrely and wrongly, in my opinion) directly commissions and holds funding agreements with. The pupil premium can feel like a strange halfway house between compliance and autonomy, although schools are becoming increasingly evidence-informed in their use of and communication about this element of their spending.

So ringfenced funding – whether allocated to schools to do specific things with or through funded programmes that schools can bid for or participate in – is an attractive proposition, especially for Secretaries of State keen to make their mark and for civil servants keen to retain an element of control. Some can feel long-term and strategic: for example, the huge investment in Early Career Framework and National Professional Qualification training  – despite many reservations about quality and impact. Others feel like ministerial whims. What impact, if any, did Nicky Morgan’s character education grants have? Why should schools have to apply for chess sets or a picture of the King? Ringfenced funding also implies a lack of trust. For all the talk of school or MAT autonomy, it implies that there are certain things that (whether through the fault of school leaders or of the wider accountability systems that shape school funding decisions) schools can’t quite be trusted to spend money on wisely, if at all.

So future governments will need to pick their ringfenced funding battles carefully; this should ideally include decisions on which current funded programmes should be cut. The coalition government in 2010 had some clear cuts in their sight, and, even if you didn’t agree with the ideology (I should know, they cut a programme on cultural learning I was leading) what they cut showed you where they stood. So far, the opposition hasn’t dared to go there. As I argued in a recent piece for Tes, they should, even if it makes them enemies. 

My priority for in-school ringfenced funding would be the arts, design and culture, both within and beyond curriculum time. We know from research with our partners, The Cultural Learning Alliance, that young people’s participation in the arts has fallen dramatically in the last ten years, both in and out of school. The Cultural Education Plan, which is scheduled to be launched before Christmas, does not have a remit to propose additional funding. Of all the hundreds of school leaders I spoke to during my leadership of Creative Partnerships, one quote from one headteacher was particularly memorable: ‘not having this money in my school budget means this programme is a guilt-free way I can prioritise the things I believe in for my pupils’. 

Future governments will need to pick their ringfenced funding battles carefully Click To Tweet

However, if anyone found an extra billion or two behind a DCMS sofa or DfE plant, or wanted to redirect the NTP funding as the programme comes to an end, my focus wouldn’t be schools at all. That’s why CfEY is calling on the Government to use the autumn statement to increase investment in extra curricular enrichment activities, youth services, and targeted mentoring that can support young people, especially the most vulnerable teenagers, to ‘bounce back’ from the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

We have three asks:

  1. A new ‘Enrichment Guarantee’, targeted at young people in the most deprived areas.
    Significant investment is needed in a new enrichment offer that provides both funding and strategic coordination of existing youth sector and community assets, to improve disadvantaged young people’s access to enrichment opportunities (such as sports, music, or trips away from home).
  2. The rapid national rollout of Local Youth Partnerships.
    These locally established, cross-sector organisations are funded by DCMS and were successfully piloted by the YPF Trust in ten areas in 2022-2023, with further pilots happening in 2023-24.  They seek to ‘sustain delivery for children and young people in a specific area, shaped by local needs and ambitions’.
  3. A new five-year tutoring and mentoring offer for the ‘forgotten third’ of 14-year-olds who are struggling academically.
    Learning from our EEF GCSE resits review, each of these young people should be assigned a learning mentor who will provide both academic and pastoral support that will continue from ages 14 to 19, offering continuity of support for the transition to college and work. 

Finally, here is one more radical and probably unpopular idea that no autumn statement could possibly do justice to.

Like the NHS is slowly doing (informed by the 2010 Marmot Review, but embedded within its long-term plan), our education system needs to adopt the principle of ‘proportionate universalism’. Put simply, this means that an ever-greater share of our education funding should be directed to young people who are at the most risk of poor educational and wider outcomes. Or as Simon Knight, Joint Headteacher at Frank Wise special school in Banbury, said in one of CfEY’s podcasts: all education programmes and funding should aim to have a ‘disproportionately positive impact’ on those whose needs mean they are less likely to achieve well at school. This all sounds easy to support – who wouldn’t want to give more funding to poorer pupils or those with additional needs? However, if taken seriously, it implies a radical redistribution of existing resources: that isn’t necessarily a vote-winner or crowd-pleaser. 

An ever-greater share of our education funding should be directed to young people who are at the most risk of poor educational and wider outcomes Click To Tweet

At a Speakers for Schools panel on social mobility at this year’s Festival of Education at Wellington College, I suggested that our school system needs to find ways to educate the academically able for far less money, to free up cash, time and the best teachers to support others. AI and technology-enabled education solutions, for example, could have a massive role in higher-end teaching and learning, for instance, at A level, as well as supporting improvements in basic skills and reducing the workload of routine teacher tasks. Of course, we all want the education funding pot to grow, for everyone, for all time. But even if this did happen (and with falling rolls, this looks even more unlikely) we still have to, as a school system and a society, make even tougher choices about how this money is directed.