Hinds shunned us over school funding concerns, say heads

Headteachers told twice that ministers were too busy to discuss school funding crisis

Mark Smulian

Hinds shunned us over school funding concerns, say heads

Education secretary Damian Hinds has twice refused to meet head teachers to discuss schools funding shortages, according to the Worth Less? campaign.

Jules White, spokesman for the network of schools in 64 local authority areas and head of Tanbridge School, Horsham said the response showed either that the Department for Education did not treat heads’ concerns seriously, or did not think school funding was a problem.

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In a letter from headteachers going out to parents in around 3.5 million homes, Worth Less? said that civil servants had twice said Mr Hinds was too busy to meet a delegation of heads.

The letter drew attention to “extremely challenging” shortfalls in schools funding and said the most vulnerable pupils were bearing the brunt of cuts.

It urged parents to lobby both local MPs and the DfE on school funding.

Worth Less? said it was told by the DfE last December: “I am afraid that, on this occasion, the secretary of state and the minister of state must decline your offer to meet. 

“I hope you will understand that their time is heavily pressurised and their diaries need to be prioritised according to ministerial, parliamentary and constituency business.” 

A second attempt by heads to secure a meeting was rebuffed last month when a DfE civil servant wrote: “As I’m sure you will appreciate, both their diaries are very full and they are unable to accept your kind offer at this time.” 

The Worth Less letter noted: “Thousands of head teachers simply do not understand what issues could be seen as more important than the ones we are raising on behalf of schools, children and families.”

It said the DfE response was “inadequate” and that heads needed the ministerial meeting “to reflect the serious concerns expressed by families regarding inadequate levels or resource and provision especially for our most vulnerable students” and to ensure that schools received a better deal from the comprehensive spending review expected later this year.

Mr White said: “We want the DfE to press the Treasury over school funding in the spending review. If a large number of parents had complained to me I would not tell them I was too busy to meet them, yet that is what we’ve had from the DfE.”

Headteachers also said they wished to “indicate serious and rising concerns relating to the wider pastoral and social care that schools are expected, by default, to provide against a background of severe cuts to local authority provision”.

In a sign that public pressure has had some effect, MPs described the school funding situation as a "national emergency" that is forcing headteachers to make "impossible choices" during a debate this week, sparked by a petition to increase school funding that attracted more than 100,000 signatures. 

Meanwhile, Labour MP Jess Phillips this week asked prime minister Theresa May to pick up her son from primary school on Friday afternoons after it was revealed the school can’t afford to stay open due to lack of funding.

Interim national schools commissioner Dominic Herrington though last September denied the problem, saying England’s school system was not even on the verge of a funding crisis.

Today Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “The government cannot avoid this issue any longer. Class sizes are rising and the range of subjects schools can afford to offer is shrinking. Our system is failing the most vulnerable pupils, at the most critical time in their lives.

“Governors, parents, staff, and school leaders have been banging the drum for more funding for more than two years now. The government has lost the argument. Everyone now understands that only new money from the Treasury will solve the school funding crisis.

“This feels like a pivotal moment. School budgets are at absolute breaking point. School leaders have made all the obvious savings – now they are faced with having to make major changes to the way they provide education. Yet the government’s response is one of institutional deafness.”

The DfE has been contacted for comment.

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