Uphill struggle against shortfall

28th June 1996 at 01:00
Bradfield school sits on a hillside at the very edge of Sheffield, houses on one side, spectacular views of Derbyshire on the other, writes James Montgomery.

Headteacher Margaret Booth has an apt analogy for her four years in charge: "At first you felt you were gently walking up a slope," she says. "Now it is like going up a steep hill pushing a boulder in front of you."

After three years of cuts, governors last year agreed a budget deficit of Pounds 22,000. This year's shortfall will be larger. Bradfield now has the lowest per capita funding of any secondary school in the city.

The impact is obvious: one-third of the 900 pupils are taught in mobile classrooms - "at least 15 years old but they weren't new when they arrived", according to Ms Booth.

Weeds sprout on the crumbling all-weather pitch, which after 10 years of neglect is now too unsafe to use. In winter, PE lessons have to take place in the school hall as well as the gym.

Built to accommodate 770 pupils, the school is overcrowded. An inspection by the Office for Standards in Education two years ago warned that classrooms were too full with 26 or 27 pupils; the average in the lower school is now 30.

Because it cannot afford new computers, the school is struggling to deliver the information technology requirements of the national curriculum.

Bradfield has 114 pupils with special needs but can afford only one specialist teacher. A second teacher who took early retirement has not been replaced.

"When I came here, I had a vision of where the school could go," Ms Booth says. "I have tried to encourage development and improvement, and the staff are very good and have worked terribly hard.

"There is this feeling of gradual deterioration. Over the past two years, heads of department have been given just enough money to buy paper and exercise books but there has been no money to replace lost or broken equipment."

None of this is unique to Sheffield. But the frustration of the city's teachers is compounded by the suspicion that the city council is partly to blame.

"The council constantly blames central government but we find it very difficult to believe that there is so much less money than there is for other authorities," Ms Booth says. "Despite numerous demands, we don't feel we have got any straight answers to our questions."

She shares the view that the city should delegate more money to schools. "If you gave schools a reasonable amount of money, there would be less call on central resources, especially special needs."

Then there is the inefficiency: "There are still secondary schools in Sheffield which do not know how many pupils they are going to have in September and, with a very tight budget, you have to plan your staffing down to the very last lesson.

"I should be running the school, which is what I am paid to do, but, because of the ineptitude in the education department, headteachers are having to fight battles with politicians."

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