East Devon headteacher survey - ‘Budgets cut to the bone’

School survey

School survey - Credit: Archant

“Parents don’t really understand the severity of our situation – the education of their children is being detrimentally affected.”

School survey

School survey - Credit: Archant

Headteachers from across East Devon have responded to a survey by the Exmouth Journal, Sidmouth Herald and Midweek Herald to warn that their budgets have already been ‘cut to the bone’, but their costs continue to rise. With per-pupil funding in Devon £290 below the UK average, only one of the eight respondents believed a new national funding formula would help – and only if more money is injected into education as a whole.

Three-quarters of headteachers who responded said their budget for 2016/17 was in deficit. One school leader’s budget was £40,000 in the red, which had never happened before.

When asked if they would have to restructure or make staff redundant, half of teachers responded ‘not yet’, while 37.5 per cent have already done so.

Only two out of eight heads said they would not be forced to cut back on creative subjects, while one said the time allocation will be the same, but budgets to fund the materials have been cut.

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One school leader said parents do not understand the problems, but the rest said they are aware, but do not understand the scale.

According to the survey results, the biggest pressures on budgets were the increase in employer contributions to pensions, higher National Insurance payments and changes to the Living Wage. The rise in special educational needs (SEN) support needed was also a major factor.

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In the main, headteachers have coped by dipping into reserves and cutting the numbers of teaching assistants, or their hours.

Responding to the survey, they said:

• “Staff are being put under even more pressure to do more with less – fewer resources, less time but less support and capacity from other colleagues. That will have a direct negative impact on the children’s experience and education in our school.”

• “I believe that last year was the start of the budget in Devon being too low to maintain standards, schools having already cut back to the bone. The only cost-saving measures left are to reduce staffing, to the detriment of children’s education. This year the situation is even more dire, and unless things change next year we will see most schools in Devon in deficit having used up their reserves and/or making further redundancies.”

• “Another major issue is SEN funding, which is totally inadequate for the increasing numbers of children that are coming through schools with serious and challenging issues. More provision should be made for some of these children to be educated in special schools.

• “The simple fact is this is a political choice. These children represent the future. We should be investing in them, and in schools. I used to get 100 applicants for a job. I got six this year. Only two were good enough. I was lucky to get one that was appointable.”

To bring about change, all of the headteachers who responded to the survey said they would encourage parents to write to their MP - and one had many times already.

Sir Hugo Swire MP said he has campaigned for fairer funding since he was first elected to represent East Devon and he was pleased when the Government agreed to look again at ‘the whole funding issue’.

He added: “But I must also inject a few words of caution.

“The present government is under increasing pressure from all sides for spending increases for public sector pay, the NHS and social care, and housing and it will certainly have to prioritise in order to remain within its own fiscal targets.

“This, combined with the uncertainty over the unknown consequences of Brexit, means the Chancellor will not want to use up much of his headroom in the short-term.

“He might well agree to fund our schools better, but the consequences of that could easily involve higher taxes and more borrowing and the electorate need to be ready for that.

“At the end of the day, someone has to pay.”

Sir Hugo said the last Labour administration had ‘poured’ more cash into schools, but the outcomes were ‘not good’, adding: “As is so often the case, it is not just about more money.”

EducatEducation secretary Justine Greening this week announced another £1.3billion in funding for schools over the next two years.

Sir Hugo tweeted that it was a victory for Devon MPs that will see county schools receive £4,800 per pupil, up from the ‘present average’ of £4,340.

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