Education chiefs are ‘waiting for us to blink first’ heads tell parents

Parents and headteachers met at St Wilfrid's School
Parents and headteachers met at St Wilfrid's School

Headteachers have warned a ‘one size fits all’ curriculum brought about by a lack of money would see children’s education suffer.

Three secondary heads met with around 50 parents at St Wilfrid’s school on Thursday (March 30) to discuss the ongoing funding crisis.

Worth Less?

Worth Less?

During the evening, Michael Ferry, of St Wilfrid’s, Rob Corbett, of Ifield Community College, and Philip Stack, of Oriel High, painted a bleak picture of the changes schools were already making because their budgets were too small.

One of the major concerns was the reductions being made to the curriculum, with the more creative subjects falling by the wayside. Mr Ferry said: “If we lose things like dance, drama and PE from the creative side of the curriculum in favour of EBacc subjects, once they are gone they are not ever coming back.

“Those teachers will leave and we won’t be able to replace them.”

There were fears among parents that children who were more creative and perhaps less academically able would suffer the most as they were forced to study for exams they were unlikely to pass.

One mum said: “My fear is for children who are being forced into doing GCSEs where some are going to come out with very little and feel they are a failure before they even come out of school.”

Mr Corbett agreed, adding: “There are students who go to school because they’ve got PE, because they’ve got music, because they’ve got drama, because that’s what they love.

“If you lose that you lose those kids. Up and down the country these are the departments that are being affected and it’s terribly sad.”

Mr Ferry, who has already had to cut two subjects from the GCSE curriculum and “at least one” at A-level, said students were being left with a “one size fits all curriculum”.

He added: “I fear we are going to find ourselves running education back to a time when a lot of youngsters were disillusioned and disenfranchised at the end of their education.

“We’re in danger of going back 15 years.”

The headteachers called on parents to pile the pressure on Crawley MP Henry Smith and his colleagues, demanding every school in the country be given “adequate core funding”.

Mr Smith, who serves as parliamentary private secretary to Justine Greening, secretary of state for education, was invited to the meeting but was unable to attend.

He has repeatedly declared Crawley to provisionally be “the second highest gaining area out of any part of the country” under the government’s proposed National Funding Formula, stating the town’s schools “would receive an extra 8.4 per cent in funding”.

The headteachers, however, questioned this figure.

A House of Commons briefing paper, published on March 20, said the National Funding Formula would see 54 per cent of schools funded at a higher level than in 2016-17, with 73 per cent of those gaining up to 5.5 per cent.

Those schools would “likely” be on the full formula by 2019-2020.

Mr Ferry said: “Nobody can confirm the 8.4 per cent, as any future rise is reliant on future funding reviews.”

But Mr Smith said the 8.4 per cent rise had been “confirmed” by the Department for Education, adding there would be no new formula “unless it is supported by a majority of MPs so it is in our local schools’ interests that it goes ahead”.

Mr Corbett said: “If we’re the second biggest beneficiaries and we’re all saying we can’t survive, that says all that needs to be said about the effectiveness of the formula. There isn’t any money going in and there’s too much being taken out. There is no more fat to trim. We are down to the meat.”

The National Audit Office has warned the government that funding was not keeping pace with the increase in pupil numbers or the rising costs of national insurance and pension contributions.

As such schools would have to make cuts of 8-10 per cent to plug the £3bn budget gap which will have opened by the 2019/20.

The suggestion from Prime Minister Theresa May that schools could make more “efficiency savings” to plug the gap was dismissed as “insulting” by Crawley heads; while the government’s public accounts committee found the Department for Education “does not seem to understand the pressures that schools are already under”.

It was a view shared by Sally Burgess, who has a child at Holy Trinity School, in Gossops Green. She said: “It’s just frustrating that they don’t seem to be understanding what schools are having to put up with at the moment.

“They seem to think that it’s a win-win situation but they don’t seem to be listening to the headteachers who are at a grass-roots level.

“It’s not just about the staff, it’s about the students. What worries me is certain students are not going to be able to excel.

“We’re sticking children into a box and saying this is what you have to do to be of value. It worries me that children are going to come out of school feeling failures because they couldn’t meet the GCSE requirements.”

Ifield Community College has already had to make one vice-principal redundant and was unable to replace three teachers who left last year.

Another three will follow this year and Mr Corbett said he had lost 5.5 teaching assistants in the past 18 months.

He told parents “the time is now” to get their message across to the powers that be.

Urging parents to share their views with Mr Smith, Mr Ferry added: “This is really, really important for your children and the children who come after.

“If we lose this opportunity for change, no political Party is going to come back and grasp this nettle again.

“Please keep sending letters. ”

When asked about the possibility of strike action, Mr Corbett said: “Teacher strikes achieve nothing barring annoying parents. We’d much rather have people with us because you have the power – you are the people who will change MPs’ minds because you control their destiny.”

Mr Ferry added: “They are worried about what school leaders are going to do. They are worried about what governors will do. They are worried about what parents are going to do – and we have to keep that up. They’re waiting for us to lose support. They’re waiting for us to blink first.”

Responding to the claim that his role within the Department for Education clashed with his duty to the people of Crawley, Mr Smith said: “Under our British constitution the government has always been made up of Members of Parliament from the majority party in the House of Commons. Whether Theresa May, as the ultimate example, being Prime Minister and MP for Maidenhead, or myself, as parliamentary private secretary of the education secretary and Crawley MP.”

Mr Smith can be reached by post at House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, by phone on 01293 934554 or 020 7219 7043 or via email at henry.smith.mp@parliament.uk .

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