Headteachers are writing to parents highlighting the budget crisis facing their schools and warning that teachers’ jobs will be cut under the government’s school funding plans for England.
The letters, sent out to parents in the run-up to the budget on Wednesday, are part of an increasingly organised campaign against the revised national funding formula in which schools in London and other urban areas will lose out to rural and coastal towns.
Families are being urged to lobby their MPs, write to ministers and attend local meetings to fight the changes, which coincide with a growing crisis in overall education funding, with schools being asked to find savings of £3bn.
“Please realise doing nothing and changing nothing will mean a vastly reduced education system for all children and, I for one, am not prepared to let this happen on my watch without causing a serious fuss,” Helen Williamson, headteacher of Billingshurst primary school in West Sussex wrote.
“Please join me in expressing that very loud and clear to those who have the power to give us the resources to ensure a world-class education system that has every child equally at its heart.
“We have far fewer teaching assistants, fewer teachers, fewer interventions to support children’s learning, fewer leaders to support staff, children and families, fewer books, IT resources and vastly reduced capacity to ensure that all children’s needs are met, especially those with a special educational need.”
London Councils, a bipartisan group representing 32 local authorities and the City of London, says the government’s new formula will cut budgets at 70% of schools in the capital at the same time as they are already enduring a funding freeze with increased costs for wages, pensions and inflation.
Joseph Bell, headteacher at St John’s and St Clement’s primary school in Southwark, south London, wrote to parents last week warning their school faced funding cuts amounting to the cost of seven teachers.
“Experts have estimated that by 2019 St John’s and St Clement’s primary will lose about £320,000, which is the equivalent of seven teachers. Clearly, this level of cuts will have a huge impact on the standard of education we can provide our children.”
Helen Ingham, head of Ivydale primary in Nunhead, south London, told parents in a newsletter that the school faced a 14% cut in its budget by 2019-20.
“To put this in context, that is 30% of what we spend on teachers each year or 65% of what we spend on TAs. Since staff costs make up 70% of our budget a reduction in funding of this magnitude leaves us with impossible choices which will inevitably impact on your children’s education.”
Parents have tweeted their concerns. One father said his sons’ school in Cornwall was likely to lose 11 teachers and £1m; another said her three-form entry primary expected to lose 13 teachers based on local calculations, while a Reading parent said her children’s schools were losing £484 and £412 per pupil, and one has asked parents to pay £1 a day per child.
The outcry comes as the chancellor, Philip Hammond, prepares to announce in the budget that he will spend £320m on expanding the government’s free school programme, creating 70,000 places in 140 schools, some of which could be grammars after legislation is passed.
Joanna Yurky, a parent and co-founder of the Fair Funding For All Schools campaign, condemned the government’s education priorities. “Theresa May has not kept her promise to parents. Under this government, funding per pupil is going down.
“This is having a damaging impact on schools and children across the country. The government seems to be in denial about this. This budget shows the money is available. But instead of investing in hard-pressed schools that are losing staff, increasing class sizes and cutting the curriculum, the prime minister is allocating resources to pet projects that no one voted for.”
A group of 150 secondary headteachers in north-west England signed a letter and sent it to the prime minister, ministers and MPs to protest against cuts to their budgets. They say the cuts mean they will have to find savings of £400m by 2020. “The future is potentially a bleak choice between making significant reductions in staff … or an untenable deficit,” the letter reads.
A Department for Education spokesperson said the government had protected the core schools budget in real terms since 2010 and quoted analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which showed that spending per pupil almost doubled in real terms between 1997 and 2016.
“Currently, the system for distributing that funding across the country is unfair, opaque and outdated. We are going to end the historic post code lottery in school funding and under the proposed national schools funding formula, more than half of England’s schools will receive a cash boost.”
A Guardian call-out to parents and teachers prompted one history teacher in London to report that their school had experienced a 20% budget cut in every department, teaching time increased, departments merged and experienced staff not replaced.
A school governor at a primary in south Yorkshire, who also wished to remain anonymous, said her school was no longer able to afford to recruit experienced teachers, but was relying on cheaper, newly qualified staff, “which means that the quality of teaching and learning is falling”.
She said: “We can no longer afford books/pencils/IT. We have jokingly said that we will need to return to chalk and slate. In reality, the only way we can work within our projected budget is to reduce the number of staff resulting in mixed year groups, large 30-plus class sizes and reduced teaching support. How is this serving our children well?”