“It’s the issue right at the top of the agenda for most boards at the moment. Governors and trustees are making difficult decisions and they’re not making them lightly.”
We’ve been speaking to Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the National Governance Association, about the NGA’s forthcoming ‘Week of Action‘ to call for better school funding. Emma tells us more about the campaign and how you can get involved.
Emma, What are you hearing from governors and trustees about funding issues and the effect they’re having on pupils?
Well the effects are not the same in all parts of the country – and they also vary by school phase – but put together it’s a consistent narrative, that school funding is a real issue. Some schools are struggling with capital and premises costs. In other cases schools are having to subsidise their sixth forms. For some, it means offering fewer subjects at GCSE. Special needs funding is also a big issue.
Governors and trustees, who are having to balance the books, are making difficult decisions and they’re not making them lightly. Many are telling us that they didn’t expect to have to do this when they volunteered. In our annual survey last year, the vast majority of members who responded said they felt the decisions they were having to make were affecting the quality of education provision.
So what are you asking governors to do?
There are a number of different ways governors can get involved. For some it might mean joining us at our lobby in Parliament on Thursday February 28th – but others may need to take part closer to home.
We’re asking governors to contact their local MP, invite them to their school and have that important conversation; tell them exactly what their issues are in their context and how funding constraints are affecting their pupils. In order to change hearts and minds, MPs need to understand what’s happening in individual schools and the case needs to be made face-to-face.
I see you’re also calling on some schools to speak publicly about their funding issues?
Yes and this is to help us show the variety in the ways young people are being affected. Although it’s wonderful if people are willing to put their school’s name out there – we do realise that’s a tricky decision for boards to have to make.
So we are happy to anonymise case studies as long as we know they’re right. We’ll be asking people questions to make sure we get the story correct, but we don’t have to name schools if governors would prefer not to.
We often hear the government come back and say that ‘school funding is at record levels’. Are you anticipating a response similar to this?
Well in fact that’s exactly why we need to do this, because the government’s arguments aren’t advancing – they’re coming back to that same headline figure which just isn’t meaningful for people who’re trying to balance budgets at a school level.
This is why it’s so important that individual stories are heard – because if they’re not, we’ll just get the top line figure again.
Will this be one of the most active campaigns for the NGA so far?
Absolutely. We do a lot of lobbying in terms of talking to the Department for Education in all sorts of ways but primarily by discussions behind the scenes.
In terms of a public, concerted, continued campaign – yes – this is our most active campaign so far. This is because it’s an issue that’s right at the top of the list of things that most, not all, but most governing boards are concerned about. That’s really why we’ve decided to take a different approach on this one at this point.
To read more about the NGA’s Week of Action, please click here.
For those wishing to get involved in the event on Thursday 28th February, here are some important timings:
14.00 – 17.00, governors and trustees will meet MPs in a committee room in the House of Commons to urge MPs to invest in the future of children and young people. There will be a panel of speakers at 15.00, so appointments to see MPs are best made for 14.00 to 15.00 and at 16.00. Please click here to register for the event.