Devon schools could be forced to shut on Friday afternoons, councillor predicts
PUBLISHED: 11:55 05 July 2019 | UPDATED: 11:56 05 July 2019
Devon's schools could soon be forced to shut on Friday afternoons due to budget pressures, a leading councillor has predicted.
A headteacher has also warned that 'it's not going to be long before a school goes bankrupt'.
Councillor Rob Hannaford, the chairman of Devon County Councils Children's Scrutiny Committee, said he was convinced a school in Devon would soon join schools nationwide in closing on Friday afternoons to give teachers the preparation and planning time required, because they cannot afford to pay for an additional teacher to cover those sessions.
A group of more than 80 cross-party MPs have written to Chancellor Philip Hammond urging him to increase school and special needs funding before permanent damage is done to the education of children across England.
An example of the damage being done, used in the letter, includes Exeter Road Community Primary School in Exmouth, that has already reduced the number of teaching assistants at the school from 24 to 18 in order to cut costs.
Paul Gosling, headteacher of the school, said that the crisis over lack of funding means that despite already axing a quarter of support staff, they are facing a budget deficit of £100,000 this year.
He said: "We have been through everything - curriculum, books, paper suppliers, and unfortunately we still can't make the budget balance, so we are going to have to make more staff cuts."
And a stark warning has been issued by Martin Casserley, headteacher of Black Firs Primary School in Cheshire, who said: "It's not going to be long before a school goes bankrupt."
In the letter to Mr Hammond, the MPs - many of whom represent the lowest-funded local education authorities - said the f40 campaign group sought fairness and equal opportunities in education for children, regardless of where they lived.
At present, some schools receive as much as £3,000 less per child a year than other schools - which would amount to almost £1m a year less for a school with 330 students - leaving them struggling to meet the curriculum and provide the teaching support required.
Devon County Councillor James McInnes, who is the deputy leader and portfolio holder for schools and the national chairman of f40, said Devon is one of the worst funded councils in the country with every child in one of the county's schools worth £294 less than the national average.
He said: "We welcome the new national funding formula and it has made a difference but it's not right yet. We are absolutely committed to getting a fair funding formula across the country.
"We must ensure the amount per child is enough to run a school. Currently schools are relying on all sorts of add-ons to be able to keep the doors open and that has to change."
Cllr Hannaford added: "The long-term gross underfunding of Devon's schools is a great scandal that needs addressing urgently to ensure that our local children have the best educational outcomes.
"In Devon, we see school deficits growing month-on-month, big staff reductions, support staff being removed despite a rise in children entitled to free school meals and many more children with special needs, and parents and families being regularly asked to contribute towards essential items.
"We are one of the richest countries in the world, so school funding in the United Kingdom should be enough to actually run each and every school properly. Indeed I am convinced that we shortly see some schools in Devon having to close early on a Friday to keep running costs down.
"We want Devon's people to have a first class education as standard so that they can go forward in their lives and achieve their dreams and go as far as their talents and abilities will take them.
"We all know that most children and young people in reality will only have one shot at their education and this massive level of underfunding is blocking their life chances, and overall short changing the nation's future."
Gary Streeter, MP for South West Devon and vice-chairman of the f40 education fair funding campaign group, added schools are being asked to take on more and more work that traditionally was undertaken elsewhere, such as youth work, parental support and mental health - and the schools needed to be suitably funded and trained for this work.
He added: "In real terms, funding has not kept pace with costs and demands and, as a result, schools are finding it extremely difficult to meet basic expectations."
The letter, signed by more than 80 MPs, urges the Chancellor to consider the concerns in this year's Comprehensive Spending Review. It urges him to remove 'historic inequalities and funding protections' in the system, significantly increasing funding for all schools, raising basic entitlement to ensure costs of running a school are met and injecting at least £1.4bn immediately in High Needs.
The letter states: "We believe the Government has replaced one unfair system with another, as some of the historic unfairness has been locked into the new formula.
"We are concerned that the formula does not give enough basic entitlement to schools and allows too much for add-ons, enabling big differences in funding to occur between different local authorities and schools."