Cash-strapped schools appeal for more support from MPs

Headteachers have written to 100,000 parents and carers and warned them that school budgets are still in a "critical" condition.

Friday, 9th March 2018, 5:10 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 3:22 am
WorthLess? campaign for fairer school funding

The government's new National Funding Formula, which is due to come into effect in April, promises an extra £28m of school funding for the county by 2020.

The money amounts to £250 per child, but schools said any gains would be “wiped out” by continued rising costs and the reduction of crucial educational grants.

While acknowledging the support given by West Sussex MPs, who have lobbied government on their behalf, headteachers said that support was “sympathetic, but in our collective view it is not strong enough”.

In addition, they were “immensely disappointed” to have received no response to their letters to chancellor Philip Hammond and secretary of state for education Damian Hinds.

Now they have called on parents to write to their MPs to appeal for greater levels of support.

Explaining the impact of the National Funding Formula, heads told parents:

- West Sussex schools will be funded between 50-75 per cent lower than equivalent size schools in most London boroughs

- Class sizes will continue to rise and West Sussex children will not receive the same resources and opportunities as many other children in better funded areas.

- In 2018/19, for example, pupils in West Sussex will receive £30m less than the same number of pupils in the average funded authority, £145m less than the same number of pupils in Greenwich and £263m less than those in Hackney.

- Services for children with special education needs and those who require specialist school provision are in a critical financial position.

The WorthLess? Campaign for fairer funding has been running for more than two years, blossoming from a West Sussex only affair to include around 5,500 headteachers from 32 counties.

In the letter to parents, they said: "At a local level, West Sussex County Council have unequivocally stated that the new national funding formula is 'not fit for purpose'.

"Headteachers have also met with our local MPs on several occasions. They have listened to our views carefully and over a sustained period of time have lobbied government on our behalf. At our most recent meeting we explained to MPs, in detail, how children in their constituencies and schools are being treated. Again, the response was sympathetic, but in our collective view it is not strong enough."

They added: “We are not exaggerating the problems but making clear how bad things are.

“Our children and families deserve more robust, direct and outspoken support. Our schools are in a critical position and our MPs need to make this point loud and clear.”

What the heads said:

Simon Liley, of The Angmering School: "As the headteacher of a large secondary school, and with budgets for West Sussex schools remaining among the lowest in the country, I have some stark choices to make about where to make cuts.

"Since the main cost area for any school is staffing we have been operating cuts through 'natural wastage' for several years. This has directly led to larger class sizes, less PPA time for teachers (time for planning, preparation and assessment), fewer teaching assistants, smaller pastoral teams, fewer curriculum resources and lower building maintenance budgets.

"Without government intervention to raise funding, and as schools' reserves are depleted, this picture will only get worse."

Peter Woodman, of The Weald: "I started as headteacher at The Weald nine years ago. We had 1,450 students and 95 staff at that time. We now have 1,700 students and 96 staff. "We have this staffing level because this is what we can afford not what we want or need."I started with a Senior Leadership Team of nine, which I have now cut to 6.6 - a 27 per cent cut for a school that is 17 per cent bigger."Since 2009 I have spent every year making savings or really cuts. We survive because we are popular and full. From the figures above it is clear that classes are larger than they were nine years ago. "As teacher salaries have not kept pace with inflation the numbers of applicants for teaching posts, especially in the core subjects of English, science and maths have fallen greatly. We have had to repeatedly advertise some posts in recent years. "Despite being a school that does well, we struggle to recruit high-quality staff who can continue to deliver the improvements that we all want. "Whilst we still offer a broad curriculum, we can only offer options when they have enough students opting for them so that they are financially viable. "Nine years ago we could and would run a smaller group for a minority subject whilst now we are not able to."In recent years we have not set balanced budgets but relied on making savings throughout the year or using what limited reserves we have. "Whilst we still offer a good educational experience I worry about the long-term impact of these cuts on our children and our staff and as such on society."

Lawrence Caughlin, of Swiss Gardens Primary: "Funding, or lack of it, continues to have a significant impact at Swiss Gardens."So far we have been able to manage it in ways that we hope does not directly affect children and by the great support from our PTA and parents."We have not been able to offer professional development for staff."All resources have been significantly cut from pens and paper to art equipment; and teachers often subsidise this from their own money."We are not able to support off site visits as previously and the amount we undertake are under review."Going forward we will have no leeway, so if we have children who require extra support or we have parts of the building failing (highly likely in our Edwardian building), we will not be able to fund these."We will also be keeping staffing under review for the foreseeable future."

Michael Ferry, of St Wilfrid's School, Crawley: "Regarding the indicative budget that I have received for St Wilfrid’s, it is allowing us to set a balanced budget but it doesn’t allow me to row back from the cuts which have been made these last two financial years eg: "2015/16: Savings - £90k. A redundancy programme saw the loss of one position. "The reason why only one position was lost through redundancy was that other staff left and that allowed me to balance the books by not replacing them. "As an example, the subject leader for food technology got another job and I didn’t replace her. "The impact of this is that we now do not offer Food Technology at GCSE or A level – I still haven’t replaced her. On top of the redundancy, three staff were also not replaced"2016/17: Savings - £230k. An assistant headteacher in charge of the timetable left at Christmas 2016 and was not replaced. In total 4.5 teachers left and were not replaced."When you compare the academic years of 2016 and 2017, between both Septembers there is a significant reduction in teachers ie September 2016: 60 full time equivalent, September 2017: 52."These savings allowed for a balanced budget to be set but with a forecasted income over expenditure of a mere £5k."When politicians say that we will receive more this year they are correct - but what they don’t say is that it is capped, and although there has been a slight increase in the amount that we are receiving it is immediately wiped out by other unfunded cost pressures eg inflationary increases from our suppliers, unfunded pay awards (most recently for support staff and from September it is likely that there will be a national pay award for teachers)."There is also the prospect of a significant increase in employers pension contributions forecast for the next financial year 2019/20 – all unfunded."In terms of the effect upon students, as I have said before, we have worked extremely hard to shield students and parents/carers from the impact of the cuts, but we do currently have teachers teaching outside of their specialist areas in subjects such as maths, English, science, history and RE. "Parents need not be alarmed by this as they are all exceptionally gifted professionals who are working extremely hard to ensure that each child gets the best learning opportunities they can, but it isn’t sustainable. "This, coupled with the lack of teacher recruitment, is only adding more amounts of work onto already hardworking teachers. Something will have to give."From September 2017 we were not able to run some subjects at GCSE (Hospitality, ICT, Media and Textiles) and at A Level (Product Design and Film Studies). "As we look ahead to this coming September, again, at GCSE, Textiles, Creative ICT and Hospitality will not be running for Year 10 students and it is likely that some A level subjects which we would like to offer will not run. "Again, looking ahead to September, I cannot rule out reducing the number of classes which we have in some year groups for some of our core subjects and as a result, class sizes will rise."We are in a 'standstill' position. We are doing an extremely good job at 'coping' but that shouldn’t be how we define success. The children that we serve, not just here but in all of the schools of Crawley and West Sussex deserve so much better."As parents/carers, you pay the same amount of tax as those parents/carers in the better funded local authority’s but YOUR children are being short changed. "They only have five years of compulsory education at secondary school; we can’t afford to wait."The government and other MPs will quite rightly state that there is more money going into education than ever before and we acknowledge that but that is because there are more children in education than ever before, not because of extra investment."We need parents to unite and speak to their local MPs to demand that their views are represented, that their children deserve better and that the significant disadvantage that West Schools are being put under due to lack of investment is quite simply unacceptable."