'Crumbling buildings, spiralling costs, corner cutting and relentless pressure': a message to ministers on school funding

Cabinet ministers to be told how primary schools are struggling to cope in today's "desperate financial climate."

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The message from the top of government on school funding has been clear for many months now: "More money is going in than ever before."

But now, two of the country's most powerful ministers are to receive a plea from headteachers setting out the stark reality they face in a "desperate financial climate".

A letter, which will be sent to chancellor Philip Hammond and education secretary Damian Hinds on behalf of more than 80 heads in West Yorkshire, warns that schools face cutting jobs, rising class sizes and working in crumbling buildings dating back to Victorian times.

It warns that significant numbers of schools will be running up deficits – despite axing teaching jobs – and that without urgent action, the school system will fail children. 

Calderdale Primary School Heads Association chairman Mungo Sheppard told Tes the letter had been produced because the district's headteachers wanted ministers to understand the reality on the ground where rising costs simply outstrips the money coming in.

The letter says: “The negative effects of this are myriad: staff reductions, larger class sizes and crumbling buildings just for a start. The knock on effects are severe: a recruitment and retention crisis, ‘corner cutting’ in terms of accessing additional support and ultimately a deterioration in the quality of education and therefore outcomes for our children."

It adds: "Of course, schools in this desperate financial climate are ever more accountable with increased targets in attainment and progress to meet, attendance figures to reach, exclusions to be eradicated. The pressure on school leaders and staff is relentless: if we are not already, we will soon be facing a recruitment and retention crisis.

"There is a clear correlation between underfunded schools and underperforming children and the vulnerabilities that we, as Calderdale Primary Headteachers Association feel, are shared with colleagues nationally."

It says one Calderdale school has forecast having a six-figure deficit despite losing one teacher and seven teaching assistants next year because of the funding shortage it faces.

The Department for Education has said that the new funding formula it has introduced will result in £5m more going to Calderdale schools.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds has previously said that more money is going to schools “than ever before in the history of the country”.

In his first education questions, in Parliament earlier this year, he said: “We do know that in real terms, per pupil, across the system, it is increasing and with the national funding formula on a cash basis for each individual school they will see at least a small cash increase.”

But heads warn this is not addressing the scale of the problem.

Mr Sheppard said: “We are told that schools are being given as much money as they ever have been. What is not usually added is that we are starved of the services that used to supplement that funding and we have far more to pay out from the funding we are given.”

The letter highlights increased pension and insurance contributions, increases in salaries for support staff and the apprenticeship levy among the rising costs faced by schools.

It also warns that services that used to be provided by local councils, such as educational psychology, education welfare services and behaviour support, “are now virtually non-existent” or offered as a traded service which schools have to pay for from their own budgets.

The letter has been presented to Halifax Labour MP Holly Lynch, who will send it to both Mr Hammond and Mr Hinds.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Thanks to our reforms and the hard work of teachers, there are 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools than in 2010. “We are investing an additional £1.3 billion in school funding, over and above existing plans, with core schools funding rising from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £43.5 billion in 2019-20.

"Thanks to our new funding formula, schools in Calderdale stand to benefit by £5m.There are no cuts in funding. Every school will attract an increase in funding through the formula from this year, and in 2019-20 all secondary schools will attract at least £4,800 per pupil, and all primary schools will attract at least £3,500 per pupil.”

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