Heads angry at minister’s school funding ‘snub’

ProtestImage copyright PA

Thousands of head teachers in England are warning about a “school funding crisis” and say they are angry that the education secretary has “snubbed” them.

More than 7,000 heads have written a joint letter to 3.5 million families, warning of worsening budget shortages.

They say requests to talk to Damian Hinds have been turned down because his time is too “pressurised” to meet.

But the Department for Education said it was “fundamentally untrue” to say funding was not a priority for him.

A department spokesman said he had negotiated an extra £750m for schools and was “putting a strong case to the Treasury ahead of the next spending review”.

Jules White, West Sussex head teacher and organiser of the funding campaign, said: “When thousands of heads are all saying the same thing, it seems incredible that ministers are too busy to meet.

“Families have a right to know that our efforts to improve things are falling on deaf ears.

“Heads must now consider whether the refusal to meet us is either a complacent act of denial or simply a deliberate snub. Neither is remotely good.”

‘Their time is heavily pressurised’

The joint letter sent home to parents, warning of the impact of cash shortages, quotes a letter to head teachers rejecting a request to talk to the education secretary or Schools Minister Nick Gibb.

“I hope you will understand that their time is heavily pressurised and their diaries need to be prioritised according to ministerial, parliamentary and constituency business,” says the letter, written to heads in December by an official.

Image caption Head teachers staged a “relentlessly reasonable” protest march in Westminster

The head teachers’ group says this was “ill judged” and wrote again to ministers in January, wanting to raise the seriousness of their concerns about school budgets.

“We are yet to even receive a response,” says the heads’ letter to parents in more than 60 counties or local authorities.

The letter is being sent to parents in areas including Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, some London boroughs, Surrey, Kent, Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Cumbria.

The WorthLess? campaign group sending the letters staged an unprecedented head teachers’ protest march in Westminster last September, with the slogan “relentlessly reasonable”.

In the wake of that march, the leaders of the group met another education minister, Lord Agnew.

They described that as “constructive” but wanted to be able to share their warnings about budget difficulties with senior ministers.

A DFE spokesman said the education secretary met teachers and unions “on a regular basis”.

Cutting hours

There have been repeated complaints from schools about funding shortages, quoting figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies showing that per pupil spending had fallen by 8% since 2010, after inflation was taken into account.

Earlier this year, the Education Policy Institute said almost a third of local authority secondary schools in England were unable to cover their costs, with the proportion of these schools in the red almost quadrupling in four years.

This week MPs debated school funding, after a petition warning of funding cuts received 100,000 signatures.

The government has acknowledged that schools can face extra pressures, such as support for children with mental health problems, but says funding is continuing to rise to record levels.

This week, however, Labour MP Jess Phillips shared a message from her son’s school, in Birmingham, warning that it might have to close early on Fridays to save money.

And in February, a school in Stockport said it would introduce a half day on Friday because of “unsustainable” finances.

The letter from the WorthLess? group of head teachers says schools are “not being provided with adequate funding” to give the standards expected by families.

And it says this means narrowing the range of subjects, increasing the size of classes and cutting support for mental health and special needs.

Bigger classes

Robin Bevan, head of Southend High School for Boys in Essex, said: “Every pupil is being disadvantaged by the failure to fund schools properly.”

His school had faced per-pupil funding cuts – and this had meant increasing pupil numbers by more than 300, without being able to afford extra staff, he said.

Image copyright Getty Images

That meant some classes now had 38 pupils, he added, and that some sixth-form lessons had had to double pupil numbers.

Catharine Darnton, head of Gillotts School, in Henley, Oxfordshire, said her school was also seeing rising pupil numbers without funding for more staff.

Sean Maher, head of Richard Challoner school in New Malden, Surrey, said schools “now spend a significant sum and a huge amount of time on supporting students and families with all sorts of non-educational issues”, which had to come out of already over-stretched budgets.

Schools had to support families and help children with “anxiety or mental health issues… but we get no direct funding for it,” he added.

Head teachers’ unions have also been raising the issue of funding with parents.

In recent months, the National Association of Head Teachers said, it had sent letters to a million families, mostly in the Midlands and the North, about funding problems.

The Department for Education defended its record on school spending, saying that it was at its “highest ever level, rising from almost £41bn in 2017-18 to £43.5bn by 2019-20”.

Leave a Reply