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Tackling inflation more important than school budgets, Education Secretary says

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan (Victoria Jones/PA)
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan (Victoria Jones/PA)

Tackling soaring inflation is more important than protecting school budgets, the Education Secretary has suggested ahead of feared departmental cuts.

Gillian Keegan argued that other matters are “kind of irrelevant” if rampant costs are not tackled after the headteachers’ union warned of a dire picture for English schools.

A National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) survey of school leaders suggested that more than half are looking at staff redundancies due to Government underfunding and rising costs.

There are concerns the squeeze on school finances will be made worse as Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt are considering imposing up to £60 billion in tax rises and spending cuts in the autumn budget on November 17.

Pressed on how to stop the situation in schools worsening, Ms Keegan told Times Radio: “We’ve said very clearly the number one thing we have to do in the autumn statement is to tackle inflation, because without doing that you cannot spend your way out of inflation.

“So, without doing that, any other discussion is kind of irrelevant, because inflation will just eat up any gains.”

After inflation soared past 10%, the NAHT survey suggested two thirds (66%) of headteachers will have to make teaching assistants redundant or reduce their hours.

Half of respondents in the survey, which received responses from more than 11,000 school leaders in England, said they are looking at reducing the number of teachers or teaching hours.

In response to Ms Keegan’s comments, NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said: “The Education Secretary is right that soaring inflation and rising costs across the board is putting enormous pressure on school budgets.

“But that is not the only cause of the school funding crisis. Over a decade of underfunding by government is what has left schools unable to cope with rising costs.

“Schools are also having to deal with unfunded pay awards, the pressure from which will not be alleviated next year, even if inflation were to fall.

“In short, measures to bring inflation down alone will not solve the school funding crisis.”

He earlier warned teachers were being hit by a “perfect storm of costs” as school leaders battled to balance budgets amid “eye-watering energy bills”, spiralling costs and underfunding.

“With no fat left to cut following a decade of austerity, many thousands of schools are now looking at falling into deficit unless they make swingeing cuts. Education is truly in a perilous state,” Mr Whiteman said.

“The only things left to cut are things that will have a real, immediate impact on children – and especially those who are already the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. This goes against everything school leaders strive for, and the anger and desperation I am hearing from my members is unprecedented.

“Schools are finding that they have no option but to make redundancies. A reduction in teaching assistants and teachers will be catastrophic, leading to larger class sizes and less support for children with the greatest needs. This cannot be allowed to happen.”

The survey’s findings, which were released on Tuesday, also had 54% of school leaders say they will go into deficit this year if they did not make further cuts.