‘We can’t just stand by and watch this happen’: Brighton and Hove schools to protest over funding

Brighton & Hove's Save Our Schools Campaign
Brighton & Hove's Save Our Schools Campaign

Dozens of schools across Brighton and Hove will be unfurling banners to hammer home the seriousness of the education funding crisis.

The banners, bearing the legend ‘What government cuts mean for Brighton and Hove’, will be displayed at 71 schools today (May 12) as part of the Save Our Schools campaign.

The parent-led campaign was launched in March and has the backing of teachers and headteachers. Members are demanding the reversal of millions of pounds of cuts to education in the city and calling for the creation of an education policy “that is led by educational experts not politicians”.

Catherine Fisher, mother of two and a founding member of the campaign, said: “Seeing our banners on so many schools is a strong and visible message to all politicians that parents and teachers will not stand by and see our kids’ education suffer.”

With the new National Funding Formula due to be introduced in April 2018, the Department for Education has insisted school funding is higher than ever - more than £40bn in 2016-17 and rising with extra pupil numbers to £42bn next year. However, data from the National Audit Office (NAO) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), backed by front-line evidence from headteachers, contradicts that claim.

The NAO reported £3billion of education savings would have to be found by 2020, while the cross-party PAC said the government was “deluded” about schools’ ability to make further cuts to their budgets, adding children’s futures would be “at risk” if warnings about funding were not heeded. Figures produced by six teaching unions, including the National Union of

Teachers and the National Association of Headteachers, have been collated onto the website schoolcuts.org.uk .

They show Brighton and Hove schools face 14 million of cuts, which works out at £193,425 per school and £487 per pupil. Andy Richbell, headteacher at St Nicolas’ Primary School,in Portslade, said: “The Department for Education says that funding for education is at record levels, but this is only half of the story.

“Record numbers of children, increased national insurance and pension contributions, cuts to local authority spending for education and inflation mean all schools are facing real terms cuts. We are faced with impossible choices.”

Those choices are also being faced by heads all across the country, with some saying they will have to make cuts to the curriculum, make staff redundant and even reduce the school week to four days in an attempt to save money

Mr Richbell said: “At our school, finding £120,000 of ‘savings’ by 2019 really means cutting jobs. From September our children will no longer have the specialist languages and computing teaching that they deserve. In other schools it means larger classes or making valued and effective support staff redundant.

“Many young people, parents, grandparents, school staff and governors feel we can’t just stand by and watch this happen. Politicians from all parties have raised the issue and know the importance of education to our families and to the future of our country. We all need work together to explain the real impact of these cuts in order to influence changes in policy.”

Ms Fisher added: “Our demands are clear: we want the reversal of the £14m cuts to local schools but in the run-up to the election and beyond we’re also asking all political parties to commit to working with teachers, heads, education researchers and parents to deliver a forward-looking education system that meets the needs of every child and equips them to thrive not just survive in this fast-changing world.”

Speaking in Parliament on March 29, Nick Gibb, minister for school standards and MP for Bognor Regis, called the NUT’s figures “misleading”.

To find out more or join the campaign, log on to www.facebook.com/SaveOurSchoolsUK and follow @saveschoolsuk on Twitter.

Survey sees heads paint a bleak picture

Thousands of jobs are being cut and poor funding has left schools at crisis point. This was the bleak message from more than 700 headteachers from 14 counties – including East Sussex – who took part in an online survey.

The survey, organised by the West Sussex Worth Less? campaign for fairer funding, asked the heads how funding levels were affecting their schools, how many staff cuts they would have to make by September and what difficulties they faced when recruiting.

The 711 who took part gave details of more than 1,100 teaching jobs being axed, along with almost 1,500 teaching assistant posts and 820 administrative and support roles. When it came to funding, the word most often used was “crisis”.

One headteacher said: “Currently, we are on course to go bankrupt at some point in 2018. Without a further injection of funding, we will simply use up our reserves and run out of money, because there is only so much cutting you can do before there is nothing left to cut.”

Another said: “We cannot possibly give our children a world-class education on the funding currently being given to schools, so with the enormous cuts we are facing, we will be resigning ourselves to providing a disappointing service to our young people.”

When it came to recruiting, more than 90 per cent of the heads said finding good quality staff in subjects such as English, maths, science and computer studies was ‘difficult’ or ‘extremely challenging’. One told the survey he had been forced to employee a PE teacher with an A-level in biology to teach science. Another said she had lost one-fifth of her teaching staff to the private sector “because they are getting paid more and have better working conditions”.

A third added: “Recruitment in some subjects is virtually impossible and is worsened by agency involvement as they try to put schools in a bidding war for the same teacher and charge us significant sums to source them in the first place.”

The pressures have been so high that government figures published last year found one-third of new teachers left the profession within five years.

The survey showed seasoned teachers were also calling it a day, with one head with more than eight years’ experience announcing his decision to quit. He said: “The funding crisis this year is, for me, the final straw. I will not be in education next year to see what 2018/19 brings.”