Exclusive: Recovery at risk as school staff cuts loom

Schools are having to 'lose people who should be in front of children just to balance the books', warns heads union leader

John Roberts

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman warns that the recovery effort could be undermined by loss of school teachers and leaders.

Redundancies caused by financial pressures on schools could undermine the national education recovery effort from Covid-19, a head teachers' leader has warned.

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the NAHT school leaders union also warned that the work to support pupils to catch up could be hit by a significant loss of senior leadership from the school system once the worst of the pandemic is over.

Speaking to Tes ahead of the union’s annual general meeting today he said that the school funding situation was now “a mess” after leaders were left meeting the extra costs caused by Covid through their existing school budgets.

And he warned that heads were having to make redundancies among staff in the classroom.

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He said: “I’m talking to school leaders, pretty much weekly right now and people are restructuring their schools and are considering redundancies to make the books balance now.

“Because of this funding situation we are losing people that should be in front of children helping them to recover from the pandemic, simply to balance the books, and that can't be right if the Government's going to meet its pledge of no child left behind.”

He said a £7 billion increase in school funding that has started to come into the system has been off set by the government's refusal to meet extra Covid costs they have faced.

Last year the government launched the Covid Workforce Fund to allow schools that faced major staff shortages to apply for help with the extra costs they face during the current half-term.

However the “short-term” funding was only to be available to schools if they have spent a set amount of their cash reserves and hit a government threshold for the number of teachers who are off work.

Mr Whiteman said school finances had also been affected by loss of outside income though the use of their premises which has been curtailed by the pandemic, meeting the cost of an unfunded pay rise for some school staff and the recent change to the way pupil premium is being allocated which is resulting in schools missing out on funds for pupils who became eligible for this support after October last year.

The union leader also warned that as schools move beyond the pandemic the recovery effort could be undermined by loss of school leaders who decide to call it a day.

A survey by the union last year revealed that 47 per cent said they are more likely to leave their role prematurely due to the pandemic.

Mr Whiteman told Tes this has been followed by a surge in calls from members asking the NAHT for advice about early retirement.

He added: “I can tell you our advice lines are receiving more calls and inquiries than ever before about early retirement

“I can say it is a very real issue they've gone beyond just an expression of exasperation or exhaustion and it's now shifting into reality.

“That takes us to a place where if there's  a significant loss of long term expertise and experience that will, by definition, affect the recovery if there is not enough expertise, experience and depth in the profession left to really see us through and we should be doing all we can to reassure those longer serving, school leaders and teachers to know that they're, valued.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We have invested £14.4bn more in total in our schools over the three years to 2022-23, compared to 2019-20.

"This means every secondary school will receive at least £5,150 per pupil, and primaries at least £4,000 per pupil in 2021-22, delivering on the government’s pledge to level up the lowest funded schools."

The DfE has also set up the Covid Exceptional Costs fund  for costs such as additional cleaning and lost income and has paid schools £138 million.

Tes revealed earlier this year that schools had already had to find £42m extra Covid costs which were not covered by this fund.

The government has also announced £1.7bn in catch up and recovery funding, including a £302m recovery premium for state primary and secondary schools.

On the prospect of school leaders leaving the DfE spokesperson added: "We are enormously grateful to school leaders, as well as teachers and other school staff for the resilience and commitment they have shown in supporting children during this challenging year.

“We are improving support and professional development for teachers at all stages of their career, and have committed to providing tailored support for new headteachers who are at their least experienced and at most risk of leaving the profession, via our National Professional Qualification for Headship."

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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