A group of head teachers representing more than 250 state schools across West Sussex have taken the unprecedented step of hand delivering a letter to Theresa May, warning her of a major funding crisis that, if left unaddressed, will force them to make significant cuts within their schools. They have passionately argued that the current grammar schools debate is a significant distraction and should not be seen as a government priority when so many schools are struggling to finance their basic day-to-day operations.
The main argument
The main focus of the letter asks the government to provide schools in West Sussex with a further £20 million – about £200 per pupil – to help ease the financial struggles that virtually every state school in the county is experiencing. This is such a major issue and needs to be resolved without delay. The letter explains the seriousness of the current situation, while observing that ‘schools are struggling to function adequately on a day to day basis, and, in addition, we are severely hampered in our ability to recruit and retain staff, work with reasonable teacher-pupil ratios and to buy basic equipment.’
The 20 head teachers who made the journey to London were not alone in their show of solidarity, also being accompanied by students and a group of MPs from various constituencies throughout the county.
All is not equal
This cannot be an isolated case when the education budget has seen minimal incremental growth over the past 5 years; although there are clear regional divisions in education funding. Surprisingly not every county is allocated equal amounts of money to spend within their schools. As things stand, £4,198 per pupil is given to each school in West Sussex – £402 less than the national average of £4,600 per student. There is an even larger difference of £1,800 per pupil when compared to some boroughs in London. Schools in London benefit from additional spending, and a secondary school in a London borough receives on average £2.7m more per year than a secondary school in West Sussex.
Plans to change
Despite the government confirming that they will be overhauling school funding in England. There have been no concrete timescales put in place, and plans for a national funding formula to address inequalities in school finances have been postponed until 2018-19. This delay has led head teachers to suggest that this is having “a crippling effect on our already dire financial position”.
The Department for Education, claims that schools have never received higher levels of funding. Although, they do recognise that the “current system for distributing funding is outdated, inefficient and unfair”. Confirming that a school in one part of the country could benefit from over 50% more in funding than an identical school with the same number of children in another part.
A sense of urgency is required
Without any additional funding in West Sussex, cuts could be made to schools as early as next spring, and may lead to reduced school hours, even bigger class sizes, recruitment freezes and possibly lead to teacher redundancies. Schools across the country are already operating within tight financial conditions and working harder than ever to identify further efficiencies wherever possible. Jules White, the head teacher of Tanbride House School in Horsham, emphasised that heads were not merely scare mongering and that they ‘will look at every option to avoid taking drastic steps, but finances were so stretched that they will have to take difficult decisions’.
Let us have your thoughts!
When education plays such a vital role in the development and growth of our country as a whole, can the government ignore the vocal cries for help from head teachers in West Sussex? Is your school experiencing any noticeable funding issues? Do you have any suggestions that schools could adopt to find further efficiencies? How would you tackle the current problems some schools are facing with their budgets? We’d love to read your thoughts…