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Education secretary admits funding in schools is ‘tight’

Damian Hinds was speaking at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) annual conference in Birmingham.

The new education secretary has acknowledged that funding in England’s schools is “tight”, as he came under pressure from headteachers over budgets.

Damian Hinds told the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) annual conference in Birmingham he understood why money is such an important topic for schools, adding it is “vital” that the system is properly resourced.

The minister was met by mutterings of discontent from delegates as he addressed the topic, which were quickly shut down by the union’s general secretary, Geoff Barton.

During a discussion session, Mr Barton asked the Education Secretary about education funding, telling him it is the “number one issue” for ASCL members.

“I understand why that’s people’s number one issue,” Mr Hinds told the conference.

“I understand why, for everyone in this room, the funding of our schools and colleges is such an important topic. Of course, it is vital that our education system is properly resourced, so that we can all do the things that we came into this to do.

“It has been tough, funding is tight, I don’t deny that at all.

“I know there have been particular funding, cost pressures as well, over the last couple of years, but one of those cost pressure of course, comes from staff turnover, where you’re having to replace members of staff who have left, that incurs recruitment costs as well as the general upheaval that comes with that for the school or college.”

He added: “That does tie into what we’re talking about today, in terms of workload, because hopefully reduction in workload can help us to retain more staff.”

His response was greeted with grumbling from the 1,000-strong audience in Birmingham, including murmerings of “answer the question”.

Mr Barton told the audience to stop, saying: “If the story today becomes about headteachers shouting things out, and deputies and other people doing it, then we lose the respect of teachers and of parents.”

He added: “We have had an opportunity to sit here and talk about things. We know there is no magic wand to find funding, we know the Department for Education is in a bind.”

In his first major speech as Education Secretary, Mr Hinds offered an olive branch to teachers, pledging to cut teachers’ hours and workload in an attempt to tackle staff shortages in schools.

He promised to “strip away” pointless tasks to allow teachers to “focus on what actually matters”, and acknowledged that rising pupil numbers are making recruiting and retaining staff difficult for schools.

His comments come amid continuing concerns about teacher shortages, particularly in subjects such as maths and physics.

“Right now, we have so many brilliant teachers in our schools… but, with rising pupil numbers, I recognise that recruitment and retention is difficult for schools,” he said.

“And, clearly, one of the biggest threats to retention, and also to recruitment, is workload. Too many of our teachers and our school leaders are working too long hours – and on non-teaching tasks that are not helping children to learn.

“We need to get back to the essence of successful teaching – strip away the workload that doesn’t add value and give teachers the time and the space to focus on what actually matters.”

Secondary schools across England have been seeing an increase in numbers prompted by a spike in the birth rate in the early 2000s, that is now making its way through the school system.

This is fuelling a rise in demand for teachers.

Mr Hinds also reiterated that there will be no new tests or exams, or changes to the national curriculum, beyond those already announced, before 2022.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “The reason that ‘funding is tight’ is the Tories have cut £2.7 billion from school budgets.

“Tory cuts have created a teacher recruitment crisis, forced teachers to leave the profession in record numbers, sent class sizes soaring, and driven teachers to fundraise at the school gate.

“Now the Education Secretary has admitted there isn’t enough funding. He should adopt Labour’s pledge to give our schools the resources they need by reversing Tory cuts and scrapping the public sector pay cap to give our teachers the pay rise they deserve.”

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