A dossier on a campaign backed by a hard-Left teaching union on alleged budget cuts suggested that much of the information sent to parents on school headed notepaper was misleading or wrong. It comes after thousands of pupils were encouraged by Leftwing teachers to go on strike for a second time in a month to protest about climate change instead of turning up for lessons. The head teachers’ union received fierce criticism for backing the action, which saw children demonstrate outside Parliament and other prominent public places.
But the criticism over turning schools into political battlegrounds has been focused on the leadership of the National Education Union (NEU), the biggest union for teachers, and its School Cuts campaign, which was backed by other unions.
The union worked with tech firm Outlandish, a workers’ collective based in north London, which has also designed websites for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The Schools Cuts campaign saw parents bombarded with leaflets, letters and posters put up on school property.
At Erdington Academy in Birmingham, a poster said schools in Britain’s second city were suffering cuts of £48,898,854.
In Sefton, Merseyside, another poster claimed that £7,393,436 was being taken out of the area’s school budget.
Staff at a primary school in Barking and Dagenham posed with a School Cuts poster, claiming £6,463,030 was being taken out of the local education budget.
Parents and children were invited to a School Cuts protest march at Hazelwood School in Enfield, north London, and a letter to parents at nearby Bowes School, New Southgate, on official headed paper said cuts equal to 15 teaching jobs were being made.
Pupils at climate change demos
Directing parents to the website, the letter said: “This is obviously drastic news and the senior leadership team are working their hardest to find the best way to carry on providing a great education for your children.” Allegations across the country by hard-Left campaigners were backed up on the Schools Cuts website put together by Outlandish, then promoted on social media by Labour MPs including Jack Dromey, Dan Carden and Laura Pidcock.
But the claims being made turned out to be questionable.
The Conservatives and government ministers said they were misleading and aimed at scaring parents into voting for Labour. Tory deputy chairman James Cleverly complained to the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), which ruled against the campaign.
The UKSA said in January: “The most significant factor is that the presentation mixes reductions in school budgets that have already taken place and those projected to take place in the future.
“Some schools can expect future increases in funding to help offset past reductions.”
It also said School Cuts uses flawed methodology in its calculations to deliberately downplay funding received by schools.
UKSA noted that “the underlying calculations inflate the 2015/16 baseline funding to what it would have been with each school’s 2015/16 per pupil funding, but using 2017/18 pupil numbers.This approach creates a worse picture where pupil numbers are increasing for a particular school.”
It also said School Cuts used “misleading” statistics, saying: “We believe the headline statement that ’91 per cent of schools face funding cuts’ risks giving a misleading impression of future changes in school budgets.
“The method of calculation may also give a misleading impression of the scale of change for some particular schools.”
The findings appeared to support Tory complaints and concerns of schools being used as political weapons to promote Mr Corbyn.
Mr Cleverly said: “This deliberate scaremongering aimed at parents using misleading and discredited statistics is deeply concerning. This organisation needs to come clean on its links to the Labour Party, the hard Left, and acting as a front for a nakedly political campaign.
“Under this government, spending on schools is at a record high and 1.9 million more children are in good or outstanding schools.”
Jeremy Corbyn lunches with Outlandish staff
Standards in our schools are rising
Education secretary Damian Hinds said: “Great progress has been made in our education system over recent years, thanks to the dedication of teachers and leaders nationwide. Standards in our schools are rising, the attainment gap between disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers has narrowed since 2011, the proportion of pupils in good or outstanding schools has increased since 2010 and our primary school children achieved their highest ever score on the most recent international reading tests in 2016.”
The NEU is not linked officially to the Labour Party, but one of the unions, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), which affiliated to form the new super union, has a record of hard-Left campaigning.
The NEU has also boasted that it can still play a leading role forming Mr Corbyn’s policies.
Outlandish denied any of its current employees or freelancers have stood as Labour Party candidates, although the Conservative dossier refers to a former freelancer running as a candidate. Outlandish’s founder Harry Robbins is a member of Labour and Unite the Union and his Twitter handle says he wants cartoonists to animate Karl Marx’s Das Kapital work. Mr Corbyn has praised his co-operative business model, which is in his Islington constituency, and visited the offices several times.
Children protesting against climate change
Mr Robbins said: “Outlandish funded an initial proof of concept for School Cuts which used the Government’s own figures to show parents and teachers how much funding cuts were likely to affect their local schools.
“Since the initial version of the product responsibility for the content of the site, including the methodology used, has passed to the NEU and their union partners.
“Any suggestion that Outlandish is responsible for the methodology, the data or misleading use of statistics would be inaccurate.”
He added: “I note that Sir David Norgrove, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote in his response to Mr Cleverly’s complaint that ‘the data published on the School Cuts website are not official statistics so the authors are under no obligation to comply with the Code of Practice for Statistics’ and that ‘we were able to replicate the high-level figures given by the School Cuts website’.
“He goes on to confirm that 91 per cent of schools in England face cuts, but highlights that is not the case in Wales.”
The NEU stood by its campaign and said £5.7billion is needed to fund Britain’s schools.