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'Schools won't be able to afford teaching assistants': Minister hears London heads' funding fears

Schools minister Nick Gibb told of the 'absolute sapping of morale' in schools facing some of the biggest cuts in England

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Schools minister Nick Gibb told of the 'absolute sapping of morale' in schools facing some of the biggest cuts in England

London schools facing some of the biggest funding cuts in the country will be unable to support pupils with complex needs, maintain their buildings or hire teaching assistants, MPs warned schools minister Nick Gibb today.

During a parliamentary Westminster Hall debate on school funding, Helen Hayes, Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, quoted headteachers who had written to her with concerns.

A letter from a primary school headteacher said that in the last academic year there had been a teaching assistant in each class in their school, but this had already been reduced to one per year group. The letter said: "I can see a time when schools will not be able to afford teaching assistants at all." 

It continued: "Our building is shabby because we cannot spare the funds to carry out redecorating and minor repairs. Cuts in funding will mean that headteachers will become more and more reluctant to accept pupils who put a strain on the budget.”

A secondary teacher had written to Ms Hayes with concerns about the £500,000 of real-terms cuts her school was facing over the next three years.

This, the letter stated, would "make it very difficult for us to continue to provide a high-quality education for our students and will undoubtedly affect our ability to support student achievement and wellbeing" and would also increase teacher workload.

Ms Hayes said: "These are experienced headteachers, looking at a spreadsheet in the cold light of day and working out the choices they will have to make to accommodate the funding cuts."

'Unsustainable' school budget cuts

Mr Gibb responded that, in Lambeth, the per-pupil funding is currently £6,199, but in Surrey it is £4,329. Referring to the government's plans to bring in a national school funding formula, he said: "It’s that discrepancy that this formula goes some way to deal with."

Hammersmith Labour MP Andy Slaughter highlighted Hammersmith Academy, where 61 per cent of pupils are on free school meals and which faces a 25 per cent budget cut.

Mr Slaughter said: "It seems extraordinary that money is being taken away from schools in deprived areas at a time when other cuts are being imposed...These are schools with very deprived intakes which are losing really unsustainable amounts of money."

He warned of "the absolute sapping of morale" in schools, particularly among the teaching staff in the areas facing the biggest cuts.

At Westminster City School, the cuts amounted to the equivalent of 12 teachers, Labour MP for Ilford North Wes Streeting pointed out .

Mr Gibb replied that school funding was being raised to its highest level on record, with real-terms increases to the amounts schools were receiving per-pupil. He called on MPs not to "conflate" the spending pressures being faced across government with the proposed national funding formula set to be introduced from 2018-19.

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