'I feel unable to provide the education my pupils deserve.' Head resigns over 'bleak' funding cuts – read the full, tragic letter

21st February 2017 at 14:48
Cuts are leading to 'distrust and suspicion among teachers', head tells TES

A headteacher has resigned over the "bleak" funding cuts hitting her school, which she says have left staff riven by "distrust and suspicion".

Mary Sandell announced in a letter to parents and staff that she was leaving the Forest School in Wokingham, Berkshire, at the end of this academic year, after nearly 30 years in teaching.

The letter, sent yesterday, refers to "the high levels of stress involved in running a school in today’s economic climate, with not always enough understanding and support from within",

It adds: "The situation with regard to schools funding, both nationally and locally, is bleak; in common with other headteachers, I did not enter the teaching profession to make cuts that narrow the curriculum, or to reduce the number of teachers and increase class sizes, and yet my hand has been forced, and I see no immediate easing of the situation.

"In addition, there is an acute teacher shortage, which is really beginning to bite. Consequently, I feel unable to deliver the quality of education the boys at the Forest so clearly deserve."

The fallout of funding cuts

The problems are not unique to her school, Ms Sandell points out in the letter. It comes as schools are facing 8 per cent real-terms funding cuts, according to the National Audit Office. The government is proposing to introduce a national funding formula from 2018-19, which will involve some schools – such as those in urban areas – losing out.

Speaking to TES this morning, Ms Sandell stressed her sadness at leaving the profession and said that, although she was nearly 60, she had always planned to work at least another five years beyond retirement age.

"It's a hard job at the best of times," she said. "But since there's been less money, everything has got much harder."

The most difficult aspect of the funding cuts had been the impact on staff morale, she said: "The whole working environment changes. There's distrust and suspicion among teachers, because obviously they don't want their own budget to be cut."

This was counterproductive, because "every school needs to have everyone pulling in the same direction", she added.

The Forest School has been forced to drop several AS-level subjects from September, including further maths and drama, in order to save money, she said. Last year, it had to drop food technology at GCSE level. A staff restructuring took out a "layer" of leadership spending and led to a redundancy, and staff have not being replaced after leaving.

Local union representatives had estimated that the school would be £299 worse off per child per year under the funding changes, Ms Sandell added.

Last month, heads warned school budgets would be "unsustainable" by 2019. And one headteacher is taking part in the Great North run to raise money for his school.

A Department for Education spokesman said Wokingham would benefit under the new funding formula to the tune of 2.1 per cent. 

He added: "School funding is at its highest level on record, at more than £40 billion in 2016-17. But the system for distributing that funding across the country is unfair, opaque and outdated. We are going to end the historic post code lottery in school funding and under the proposed national schools funding formula, more than half of England’s schools will receive a cash boost.

“We are consulting on the factors that will make up the formula and we know that it is important that we get this right so that every pound of the investment we make in education has the greatest impact. The consultation will run until 22 March 2017, and we are keen to hear from as many schools, governors, local authorities and parents as possible.”

'The last few years have been the hardest'

Mary Sandell's letter in full:

Dear parents, guardians and boys,

It is with deep regret and with very mixed feelings that I have tendered my resignation, with effect from August 31st 2017.

I would like to be able to say that I am taking early retirement, but that simply isn’t true – I am 60 in July which, funnily enough, makes me the same age as the school, but, much more importantly, makes me far too old for the high levels of stress involved in running a school in today’s economic climate, with not always enough understanding and support from within. By August 31st, I will have completed 29 years and 43 days in teaching, but it is the last few years that have been the hardest.

The situation with regard to schools funding, both nationally and locally, is bleak; in common with other head teachers, I did not enter the teaching profession to make cuts that narrow the curriculum, or to reduce the number of teachers and increase class sizes, and yet my hand has been forced, and I see no immediate easing of the situation. In addition, there is an acute teacher shortage, which is really beginning to bite. Consequently, I feel unable to deliver the quality of education the boys at The Forest so clearly deserve. I must further stress that these issues are by no means confined to The Forest alone, and I know there will be people out there prepared to take the situation on and to make a positive difference. I have confidence in the existing leadership team and the governors to ensure continuity going forwards, a smooth transition and a fine new appointment. The school is a great school and will continue to be so.

From here on in, I will continue to work tirelessly for the pupils’ benefit in general, and towards a positive outcome from the Ofsted monitoring visit in particular. Currently, I am working with the governors to try to bring the Reading FC training dome to our site, which would be a fantastic new facility for the pupils.

My main regret will be leaving the pupils here: they are such characters…funny, bright, talented, frequently bonkers and, for the most part, an absolute delight to work with! I will never forget them, and will continue to do what I can from the sidelines to secure more appropriate levels of funding.

With very best wishes,

Mary Sandell

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