A headteacher has defended his decision to ask ex-teachers and other members of the community to help out for free after school funding pressures led to a third of his teaching assistants being cut.
Martin Turnham, head of Desford Community Primary School, Leicestershire, said he had to "look at ways of making good" damage caused by real-terms cuts in school budgets.
Local media reported last week that the school had asked ex-teachers and other members of the community to help out for free to replace lost TA staff.
In a letter sent to parents yesterday, Mr Turnham defended the decision. "There is a national funding crisis in education," he wrote. "The system as a whole requires an additional £2bn."
He said Leicestershire schools were "among the worst funded in the country", which had "made matters much worse".
'A well-run school'
Funding pressures had caused Desford Primary School to make four of its 12 TAs redundant – a decision which Mr Turnham said was "the responsible, if painful, action of a well-run school".
But with redundancies reducing the support that could be offered to children, he said the school had to "look at ways of making good this damage if we are to maintain our high academic standards" and that volunteers represented a "possible solution to the problem".
"We already have ex-teachers as volunteers in the school," the letter said. "They do not replace our own teachers and they don't teach the children as such. Instead, our volunteers enable children to practise and consolidate their literacy, numeracy and other skills in activities planned by the school's teachers and are closely supervised by them.
"We are looking to extend this voluntary provision in order to support children who have lost TA support this year and to further enable as many children to practise their key skills with an adult in a way which is not possible with school staff alone," he added.
School funding pressures
Mr Turnham told Tes he had received support from parents. One parent sent a message saying: "We are both working full-time hours so cannot help with supporting students in school hours but we do hope parents who are part time or not working can utilise their skills to help our children continue their excellent education at Desford."
However, the use of volunteers proved controversial among teachers on the Tes Community forum.
"Surely this is wrong on so many levels?" said one teacher.
"I understand the willingness of the ex-teachers to help out and admire them for that, but really they are perpetuating a situation that needs rectifying urgently," commented another.
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the NAHT heads union, said funding pressures had put schools in a position which was "not acceptable".
"We should never be in a position where headteachers feel forced into asking for people to come and do professional work for free, that is just simply not acceptable."
"This is a problem that we have been predicting on the basis of the lack of funding right throughout this year."
Mr Whiteman said there "simply isn't enough money in the system".
"Headteachers and school leadership teams are having to make these impossible decisions about what to cut, and the only thing left to cut is frontline teaching services," he added.