Hundreds walked to Westminster yesterday to protest about poor school funding. The march, led by Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, and campaign group Save our Schools, hit national headlines*. It also featured on the Victoria Derbyshire show.
The Department for Education’s response was feeble. It didn’t even feature a quotation from a minister:
‘Today, Friday 5 July, Jess Phillips and Save Our Schools, held a protest over school funding. The protest – named ‘Give me 5’ – is about schools closing early on Fridays, blaming a lack of funding.
This story was covered by the Guardian and in an interview on Victoria Derbyshire.
A Department for Education spokesperson said:
The funding for an average primary class of 28 in Birmingham is £125,000 – above the national average of £115,000 for an equivalent sized class. These amounts are to cover a full five-day week in term time.’
The DfE downplayed the significant media coverage* giving the impression it was only mentioned by a left-leaning paper and on day-time TV.
But criticism of the DfE’s attempt to reduce the volume doesn’t end there. It covers those difficult-to-check figures.
The UK Statistics watchdog has slapped down the DfE about its presentation of school funding data in the past. In May it asked for the DfE to produce ‘consistent and comprehensive’ official statistics about school funding which could easily be found.
How easy is it to check the statement on school funding in the DfE’s response? With difficulty, is the answer, especially for an ordinary member of the public.
I could find no data about the average primary class size in Birmingham. I found the average size of a primary class in England (27.1) in the DfE’s summary of data from the January schools census but no figure for Brum. It might be buried deeper in the DfE subsoil but I wasn’t prepared to spend hours digging for it.
I had better luck with local authority funding. The national funding formula spreadsheet for schools 2019/20 showed Birmingham’s funding for each primary pupil was £4467. This multiplied by 28 gives us £125k. I could find no data confirming whether £115k was the average for a class of 28. In any case, the average per pupil funding for primary children would have made a more sensible comparison.
But I couldn’t find the average funding for each primary child in England. The spreadsheet doesn’t show this calculation. It did, however, list the local authority with the lowest funding for each primary pupil, £3,935 for Derby, and the one with the highest allocation, £5,923 in Tower Hamlets.
The funding for each primary-aged pupil in Birmingham, then, is below the median of £4929.
The DfE has a history of spinning school funding data. And checking soundbites about funding from the DfE is not easy.
Perhaps that’s the point.