West Sussex teachers and children are to take their plea for fairer education funding directly to Downing Street.
Twelve headteachers and 12 students, along with parents and governors, will make the trip to London on Tuesday October 18, where they will hand over a letter and petition at the door of Number 10.
As one of the worst-funded local authorities in the country, West Sussex receives £40million per year less than the national average from the government and £200million less than some London boroughs.
With their budgets stretched tight, headteachers warned they would be forced to look at some ‘radical considerations’ to make ends meet.
These included larger classrooms, a narrower curriculum and shorter school hours.
The problem was exacerbated when the government’s promised national funding formula – which was supposed to offer schools a fairer share of the funding budget – was pushed back a year to 2018/19 by education secretary Justine Greening.
Schools now face the prospect of having to survive an extra year at financial breaking point.
To help address the problem, they have asked for a £20million payment to be shared among the county’s 343 primary and secondary schools to help them make ends meet until the new system comes into play.
Support for the campaign has exploded on social media with more than 20,000 people backing the schools on Facebook.
In addition, Tim Haines, who has children in primary and secondary school, set up an e-petition on the government’s website, which has so far attracted almost 9,000 signatures.
Mr Haines, who has been invited to join the trip to Downing Street, said: “I had always known that West Sussex schools received lower than the national average funding but did not realise how bad things had got until it was highlighted by the Worth Less? campaign.
“I also noted that this year the levels of attainment amongst pupils had declined against the national average. Both have made me worry about the prospects for education in West Sussex.”
Describing the options headteachers are being forced to consider as ‘a really big concern’, Mr Haines added: “All parents want the best education they can get for their children and with their support the government are far more likely to take notice of the campaign for fairer funding.”
Elsewhere, Peter Woodman, head of The Weald School, made an appearance on ITV’s Good Morning Britain where he achieved that rarest of victories – having the last word with Pier Morgan.
Mr Morgan accused the headteachers of making ‘last-ditch Armageddon threats’, such as cutting school hours, which they had no intention of carrying out.
He promptly withdrew the accusation when Mr Woodman calmly pointed out such action had been taken in the past at his former school in Oxfordshire.
Jules White, of Tanbridge House School, Horsham, was quick to thank the parents and members of the community for their support.
He said: “Heads of schools and academies have been delighted and reassured by the overwhelming support that we have received.
“The stark picture that we have drawn is very difficult to look at but parents know that it’s accurate and entirely factual.
“Like our parents and supportive local political leaders, all we want is a fair overall settlement for West Sussex schools and their children when the new formula finally arrives.
“Most crucially now, though, is our desperate need for transitional funding from April 2017.”
Explaining the call for extra money before the national funding formula is finally introduced, Mr White said: “An interim measure of £20million will still leave our schools £24million behind the average authority and £180million behind the average London borough but it will tide us over for 12 months. The money is there and it should be made available. It’s about the willingness of the Department for Education to do the right thing.”
Headteachers from all over the county have explained how a lack of money has affected their ability to run their schools as they would like.
Michael Ferry, of St Wilfrid’s School, in Crawley, said he had already been forced to leave one vacant post unfilled after a teacher left, and added: “The reality is I’m thinking ‘who else is looking to leave?’”
Speaking about the reaction to the funding crisis, Mr Ferry said: “Parents think it’s a disgrace. The fact they’re paying the same amount of taxes as everyone else but their children are getting less.”
He added: “I thought last year that the light at the end of the tunnel was coming closer, but it’s further away now than it ever has been. We’re concerned about what the budget will look like in February.”
David Carter, head of St Philip Howard School, in Bognor, said he had had to find savings of more than £500,000 in the past three years, amounting to ten per cent of his budget.
He added: “If we value the education and future of our young people we must invest in it. Here in West Sussex we are not asking for more than anyone else, we are just asking for equity; a level playing field with other counties in the UK; a chance to afford our young people the same opportunities that children elsewhere in the country have.
“We are grateful of the support of the local authority, parents and local MPs.
“If we genuinely believe that the future of our children is worth fighting for, then we must all continue to pressure our government to do more.”
Last week, Grahame Robson, head of Manor Green School, Crawley, described the struggles faced by the county’s special schools.
His words were backed by the heads of three other such schools, who issued a joint statement.
Between them, Phillip Potter, of Oak Grove College, Maria Davis, of Cornfield School, and Catriona Goldsmith, of Palatine School, cater for 450 children, aged four to 19, with complex needs.
Adding their voices to the campaign, they described the strains on their budgets as ‘increasingly significant’.
They said: “These budgetary pressures result in us constantly fighting to get the resources to provide the best possible provision for all our students.
“As we have a high staff to student ratio, necessary for care and safety of all our students, the impending increases in pension contributions and national insurance will decimate our budget.
“West Sussex special schools receive considerably less funding than our comparable schools in other local authorities.
“We urge all those who care about the education of all students in West Sussex to support the Worth Less? campaign.”
Like her West Sussex colleagues, Helen Williamson, head of Billingshurst Primary, said she had struggled to meet increasing staffing costs such as national insurance payments and pension contributions.
She added: “We would like to employ more staff to support more children with emotional, learning and social needs but we are unable to do so.
“The inequity in funding is having a serious impact in schools’ ability to meet the growing needs of our children and families.”
To support the campaign, log on to Facebook and search for ‘WorthLess?’.
Mr Haines’ petition can be found on the Parliament website.
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