'I'll resign rather than make crippling cuts,' headteacher tells top Department for Education official

Heads warn that the government is asking them to make 'unsafe' cuts, on the day that ministers announce millions for new free schools

Charlotte Santry

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Headteachers speaking at an event attended by senior government officials have lashed out at "crippling" cuts, with one saying he will resign rather than make the savings required of his school.

School heads and governors attending the event in London vented their anger at the £3 billion of savings that schools have been told to make by 2020, on the day that the government announced that £500 million would be available for setting up free schools to help to create a new generation of grammars, as well as maintaining existing buildings.

Attendees watched a presentation about the planned national funding formula, given by Tony Foot, education funding group director at the Department for Education.

In the question-and-answer session that followed, Richard Slade, headteacher of Plumcroft Primary School in Greenwich, south-east London, said: "The reality, from my point of view, just to deliver a balanced budget, is I’m not replacing staff that leave, I’m not allowing external supply to cover sickness, we’re cutting our support for special needs."

The school is predicted to lose nearly £400,000 by 2020 as a result of the national funding formula and real-terms cuts, he said at the Westminster Education Forum conference on school funding.

"If I’m going to deliver those kinds of cuts, standards are going to fall, the needs of the most vulnerable aren’t going to be met and there’s a point where my school isn’t going to be safe because I physically won’t have enough adults in a large school," he said.

"I believe that’s unacceptable. If I’m required to do that, there’s a point where I’m going to stand by my principles on a moral imperative – and I love what I do, and I’m good at what I do…but there's a point where resignation is the only option."

Mr Slade warned that the cuts were "crippling schools", adding, "There’s a point where I will have no alternative – because I’m not going to implement that level of cut – to resign."

'Headteachers will walk way'

He continued: "Having spoken to a lot of headteachers, they're in their mid-50s, they’re saying, ‘Why would I wish to oversee the decimation of our schools?' It’s just unacceptable, therefore you’re going to have a headteacher recruitment crisis coming because headteachers are going to refuse to implement [the cuts], and walk away.

"I’ve spent 20 years working within the system…but there’s a point where if headteachers like me are coming out of the woodwork, people need to listen, and hopefully we need to get proper funding into the system, making our schools truly world-class."

Last month, Mary Sandell, headteacher of The Forest School in Berkshire, resigned over the "bleak" funding cuts facing her school.

Malcolm Richards, chair of the Worcestershire Association of Governors, also voiced his concerns at the conference, saying: "We’re having to make hard decisions now – teachers’ jobs are at stake."

Responding to Mr Richards' comments, Mr Foot said a distinction needed to be drawn between the funding formula and the overall amount of money being allocated to schools by the government.

He added: "There are lots of pressures on school funding, albeit off the back of very large increases in recent years. We’re providing some help to try to address some of those pressures – national deals on utilities and so on."

However, National Governors' Association chief executive Emma Knights argued during a later session that most schools had already made the sorts of efficiencies being highlighted by the government.

"We do a lot of work with our members to raise those issues of efficiencies… but, quite frankly, large numbers of schools around the country have already done that – sorting out their energy supply, their photocopying contracts. 

"The issues that we’re having reported to us aren’t going to be solved by those sorts of things – they’re much more substantial issues."

Patrick Foley, headteacher at Southborough Primary School in Bromley, south-east London, told the meeting that all primaries in his local authority will lose out financially under the formula, which is set to be introduced from 2018-19.

He said: "I’ve looked at my budget. I haven’t got 3 per cent of efficiency cuts in my budget. The percentage I spend on staffing doesn’t enable me to have those cuts.

"I’m going to have to make choices as every head up and down the land is going to."

Mr Foley added that heads had to ask themselves whether the cuts were "justifiable".

He said his school had a high level of pupils on Common Assessment Frameworks (CAFs), which provide extra support for children with additional needs. The school was picking up the costs due to the squeeze on social care budgets. He warned: "But it’s unsustainable if I carry on paying for that, and that will have an impact nationally on those children."

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