Heads have warned they will have to make teachers redundant if the county’s school funding crisis is not sorted.
Representatives of the Worth Less? campaign – launched by every headteacher in West Sussex to secure a fairer funding deal for the county’s schools – will be meeting with the Department for Education to discuss the problem.
Headteachers such as Jules White, of Tanbridge House School, will join MPs and members of West Sussex County Council at a meeting with childcare and education minister Sam Gyimah MP on Monday (February 8).
They will discuss not only the plans for a fairer funding system but also the need for West Sussex to receive an interim payment to help schools make ends meet before that system is introduced in 2017.
Campaigners have called for an extra £200 per pupil and dismissed the government’s allocation of less than £10 per pupil as “a pittance”.
Mr White said: “We are grateful to local MPs for lobbying hard to gain a meeting. The key now is that improved funding is delivered for April 2016 and beyond.”
The campaign group has prepared a report detailing the depth of the crisis, the devastating effect it is having on schools and the wider economic consequences for the county.
Members of the Primary Headteachers’ Executive described the choices they have had to make as their budgets were stretched to breaking point. One said: “I will have to make teachers redundant this year – if we had the extra £200 funding per pupil, I would not need to.”
Nick Taunt, of Bishop Luffa, in Chichester, said: “Elements of government have got the impression that we all have reserves that can be drawn upon before National Funding Formula is implemented.
“In our case, we’ve already spent the small reserves in order to meet this year’s extra costs – there’s nothing left.”
Another head added: “We would like to offer one of our teachers a full-time contract but we do not have the money so she is teaching four days and I, as a headteacher, am having to teach one day per week.”
The campaigners’ report revealed the staffing situation was so bad a number of primary schools were being forced to consider breaking the legal requirements which state there should be no more than 30 children in a class.
Similar staffing pressures have affected secondary schools. Michael Ferry, head of St Wilfrid’s School, in Crawley, said: “I have stopped replacing staff – two in English last year – and will continue with this approach in 2016-17.”
Simon Liley, of The Bourne Secondary School, added: “We are already struggling to recruit teachers in our area. Without adequate funding to keep class sizes manageable and to ‘compete in the market’ we will be at crisis point.”
Staffing wasn’t the only area affected by the lack of money. The report added: “National Insurance contributions, pension contributions have pushed schools to the brink of bankruptcy. There is no more fat to cut.”
Mr Ferry said: “I have to allocate £120,000 to cover National Insurance and pension costs and have not funds to replace worn out IT equipment.”
Campaigners warned the fallout from the funding crisis would stretch much further than the county’s classrooms.
Their report stated: “Our schools are integral to forming the bedrock for social and financial prosperity across West Sussex. Our vital role in delivering a skilled and vibrant workforce cannot be underestimated. Schools are central to cohesive, social and community arrangements too.”
The feeling was echoed by county council leader Louise Goldsmith, who said fairer funding would help close the skills gap holding back the West Sussex economy. She added: “Business leaders tell us all the time that they would love to recruit home grown talent but with a skills gap opening up in West Sussex, they have to look further afield.
“Fair funding would ensure West Sussex schools could play a full part in helping us to close that skills gap and ensure our children can take up the high skilled jobs our economy needs.”
Figures from the Office for National Statistics showed West Sussex only contributed 8.6 per cent to the south east’s economy – £20,568 per head – compared to the 15.8 per cent contributed by Surrey.
The county also contributed less than Berkshire, Hampshire and Kent, though it out-performed the likes of East Sussex, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
With the meeting with Mr Gyimah drawing near,
Councillor Richard Burrett, county council cabinet member for education and skills said: “I am grateful to our MPs for securing this meeting with the minister and look forward to making a strong case for some interim funding and a sustainable outcome to the consultation on future funding arrangements on behalf of all West Sussex children.”
A consultation on the exact changes to the education funding system is due to start imminently.
Jeremy Quin, MP for Horsham, said: “I am delighted that we have this opportunity to push once again the case for improved West Sussex school funding. We want the consultation to deliver the best possible result and we also want to emphasise to the minister the need for fairer funding to be introduced as soon as possible.
We are very pleased local headreachers will join us to ensure the impact of the current funding system and the need for appropriate reform is reinforced.”
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