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Headteachers to petition Downing Street: ‘There’s nothing left to cut’

Posted on: 2018-09-25 06:15:00

Long before dawn breaks over Cornwall on Friday, Bill Marshall will set out for London where he will join hundreds of other headteachers outside 11 Downing Street.

It will be the first grassroots uprising by England’s headteachers, and the organisers expect more than 1,000 to make the journey to hand a letter to Philip Hammond, the chancellor, saying their school budgets are in crisis because of seven years of cuts. They will speak of swingeing reductions in special needs funding that leave the most vulnerable children without equipment; of bereaved children and depressed teenagers without access to counsellors; of larger classes, staff redundancies and the erosion of curriculum choice.

Direct action does not come easily to these school leaders, who are nervous about putting their heads above the parapet. They worry the Department for Education will brand them as political activists or the media will accuse them of taking the day off for a jolly. Earlier this month, the DfE warned teachers[pdf] against expressing political views.

Its advice to schools said that “all staff have a responsibility to ensure that they act appropriately in terms of their behaviour, the views they express (in particular political views) and the use of school resources at all times, and should not use school resources for party political purposes”.

Marshall, head of the 750-pupil Humphry Davy secondary in Penzance, says: “I’d much rather be in school, but our children are our future. I am not willing to sit here and watch schools struggling like this.” He adds: “I’ve been teaching since 1991 and I’ve never known school budgets under so much pressure. I have three children under five and I’m speaking out for their future as well.”

The campaign started three years ago in West Sussex when Jules White, the head of Tanbridge House school in Horsham, coined the phrase Worth Less? to describe the discrepancies in the way schools in different authorities are funded. Because of a historical per-pupil formula, a school in Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire, receives an average £5,054 annually per pupil compared with £8,331 in Tower Hamlets. Multiply that by 1,000 pupils and the difference between a secondary school in the best and worst funded areas is a staggering £3.27m a year, despite changes to the funding formula last year.

Now headteachers in seemingly better funded areas such as London, Birmingham and Sheffield have joined the protest. White says: “Even after the new national funding formula has been introduced, schools like mine are still funded 50%-70% less than others of the same size. But we are now seeing all schools being hit by massive real terms cuts and that’s why so many more heads are speaking out.”

Heads points to the Institute for Fiscal Studies report earlier this year showing per pupil funding has been cut by 8% in real terms since 2010 – while the DfE’s figures show an extra 537,885 pupils over the same period.

But the DfE says more money is going into schools than ever before. “It’s rising to a record £43.5bn by 2020 – 50% more in real terms per pupil than in 2000,” it said. “According to the OECD, the UK is the third highest spender on education in the world, high needs funding has risen to over £6bn this year and the 3.5% pay rise for classroom teachers is backed by £508m government funding.”

White disputes this: “The DfE appear to be like an ostrich in denial; remote from the reality of what is happening in our schools on their watch,” he says.

Meanwhile Marshall says: “This is not party politics or opinion. Over the last seven years there has been an expectation we would make up for a 1% cut in our budgets by efficiency savings. At what point do they admit there is nothing left to cut?”

Unlikely rebels: The headteachers petitioning No 11

Sharon Waldron

Sharon Waldron, 50, Stonham Aspal C of E school, a 193‑pupil primary in Stowmarket, Suffolk. Teacher for 28 years, eight as a headteacher

“Local charities have provided the money for one class of seven- to 11-year-olds to learn an instrument and our PTA has funded class reading books. Without them we could not afford instrument lessons. We are having to reduce our curriculum, for example by cutting swimming lessons from three to two terms only.

“I had to make two of my teaching assistants redundant in summer 2017 to avoid going into deficit. The effect is that teachers have had to take on extra workload. We are fortunate to have the support of local charities, the church and our PTA to help us overcome the budget shortfall, but I feel extremely frustrated that our children’s education in Suffolk seems to be valued differently to that in other parts of the country. We could be offering our children so much more.”

Headteacher Caroline Darnton

Catharine Darnton, 48, Gillotts school, an 11-16, 900‑pupil secondary in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. Teacher for 26 years, 11 as a headteacher

“My school has received £4,800 per student this year but before that we received £4,700 for six years – 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Yet staff salaries have gone up, costs have risen with inflation and we have had the additional costs of increased staff pension contributions and national insurance.

“I’ve had to ask teachers to take on an extra period and they are now teaching the maximum allowable hours and have larger classes. I deeply regret being forced to put extra work on them. When people say there has never been as much money going into education we say yes, but the money has never been worth as little because of inflation and more children in the system.”

Phillip Potter

Phillip Potter, 43, Oak Grove college, a special school for secondary 11- to 19-year-olds, Worthing, West Sussex. Teacher for 21 years and headteacher for seven

“We meet the learning, care and social development needs of 255 students with a wide range of complex needs, and over the last seven years we have had no per-child increase in funding. We have had to increase class sizes and fundraise and apply for grants for everyday necessities such as a hoist system. We have become very good at begging letters to charities and trusts.

“This year I have a projected budget deficit of £240,000. It’s all being held together by my great staff doing the very best for the wonderful young people we work with. But if West Sussex were funded more equally with other authorities we could be doing so much more.”

Head Mark Anstiss

Mark Anstiss, 52, Felpham community college, a 1,360‑pupil 11-18 secondary in Bognor Regis, West Sussex. Teacher for 30 years and headteacher for eight

“Some years we are unable to offer A-levels in subjects such as modern foreign languages, music, sociology and philosophy and that is very disappointing for students who wanted to choose them. There are not many sixth forms in this area that can afford to run A-levels in modern foreign languages. Previously if we had 62 children wanting to study GCSE history we would have put them into three groups of about 20. Now we are forced to put them in two groups of 31.

“It is hugely significant that so many heads from around the country are prepared to come out on this day to show their funding is in crisis. Local parents who send children to my school pay the same level of taxes as people elsewhere and yet their school receives up to 70% less than those in some other parts of the country.”

Tony Markham

Tony Markham, 56, Herne school, a 470-pupil junior school in Petersfield, Hampshire. Teacher for 33 years and head for 21 years

“We are non-political, non-union people, just your ordinary frontline heads wanting to make our voices heard. There isn’t enough money now to run schools effectively in Hampshire, which gets about £3,000 less per pupil each year than better funded authorities. In my school that is a difference of over £1m in funding, enough to double my overstretched teaching staff.

“We’ve done all the efficiency measures and now we are down to the bare bones. The government and Ofsted are saying we need higher standards and yet our resources are dropping off a cliff. We are staring into a financial abyss and risk short-changing our children and our communities.”


Liz Lightfoot










Source: The Guardian    

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