Barely a mention of education in autumn statement, say unions

Education unions have expressed disappointment at the Chancellor’s autumn statement (Yui Mok/PA)
Education unions have expressed disappointment at the Chancellor’s autumn statement (Yui Mok/PA)

Teaching unions criticised the autumn statement for “barely mentioning” education after a year of bitter disputes over pay and warnings about the state of school buildings.

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union, warned of cuts to education provision because schools were not able to cope with cost increases in the coming years.

Autumn statement 2023
Unions criticised the autumn statement for ‘barely mentioning’ education (Yui Mok/PA)

He said: “Investing properly in education is an urgent and overriding economic priority, yet what we have seen today is nothing of the sort.

“Just 3.9% of UK GDP is spent on education, compared to the OECD average of 5%. This was highlighted to Jeremy Hunt in a letter earlier this month from the leaders of four education unions.

“The Chancellor’s response is completely inadequate and makes a mockery of the Prime Minister’s repeated claim that education is at the heart of this Government’s priorities.

“It should be of great concern to Jeremy Hunt that 92% of mainstream schools will be unable to cope with cost increases in 2024/25. For 99% of secondary schools and 91% of primary schools, cuts to education provision are now inevitable.

“These schools have already seen years of under-investment, and in far too many cases school buildings have drifted into serious disrepair. The Chancellor couldn’t even bring himself to fund urgent work on the school estate, following the RAAC scandal, which has brought such embarrassment to this Government.

“With underfunded and understaffed schools and colleges, and school buildings crumbling, the Government must prioritise investment in schools and colleges and fund a fair pay rise for staff next year.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We are bitterly disappointed that the Autumn Statement contained barely a mention of education – particularly as the Prime Minister explicitly said in his speech to the Conservative Party Conference in October that his main funding priority in every spending review will be education because it is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet.

“Our schools are literally falling apart, thousands of children are being disrupted because of the crumbling concrete crisis, and large parts of the school estate are riddled with asbestos.

“Schools and colleges don’t have enough money to meet the likely cost of future pay awards at anything like the level which is needed to address severe and chronic staff shortages, and funding for special educational needs provision is miles short of what is needed to support our most vulnerable children and young people. Yet, none of these problems have been mentioned at all, let alone made a priority. It is lamentable.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Yet another education promise has been broken immediately after being made.

“Far from being prioritised, as pledged by the Prime Minister at the Conservative conference, education has seemingly been sidelined in this announcement.

“There was virtually nothing pledged for schools, and this statement did not touch upon the big challenges facing them.

“It will not help schools to meet the continuing challenge of inflation, recruit and retain staff, plug the chasm between the needs of SEND (special education needs) pupils and available funding, or repair or rebuild outdated and unsafe buildings.

“If this government expects schools and families to have any confidence it is serious about children’s education, we need to see action, not just empty words and promises.”