A campaign against huge education funding cuts has been launched as city schools ask parents for help in bridging the gap – while warning that cuts to teaching may not be possible to avoid.
Brighton and Hove’s schools are facing a deficit of about £11million by 2019 according to calculations made by the National Union of Teachers – which in some schools, particularly those in deprived areas, is equal to several hundred pounds per pupil.
Two Brighton schools – Middle Street Primary School and Queen’s Park Primary School – are currently consulting parents about the closure of their nursery classes, and it’s feared other schools will be forced to let staff go.
Some schools are sending out letters warning parents that they may not be able to avoid making cuts to teaching staff – and asking parents for ideas in how to balance the budget.
And this week, parents also launched a Save Our Schools group to campaign against the cuts being made in the first place.
One headteacher who has written to parents asking for help is Damien Jordan at Fairlight Primary School, which is facing a cut of £560 per pupil in its budget by 2019, a total of £212,000. This is one of the biggest cuts in the city.
Mr Jordan said: “We work hard to ensure the cuts have the least impact on teaching as possible but we can’t guarantee that they won’t.
“We are going to have to make tough decisions and decide whether we have this or that. We need to know where are money is coming from and where it is going to.
“Staff is the most expensive cost but they are our biggest asset. It’s very easy to say six teachers. We are looking at reducing costs from back things like photocopying paper – that’s saving pence. We are also looking at increasing how much we charge for school uniforms and contributions so we are not making a loss.
“Then we have to look at staffing as the biggest budget expense. We employ a large range of staff now – parenting mentors, speech therapists, play therapists, who we wouldn’t have employed 20 years ago because they would have worked for the NHS or the council, or not existed.
“More things become the responsibility of schools but the funding doesn’t reflect the diversity. When it comes down to making decisions about budgets, something like a speech therapist would have been at the top of the list and teachers are at the bottom.
“We are in receipt of quite a lot of pupil premium money but I could spend it three time over and still only just be meeting the needs of the pupils it’s intended for.”
He added: “I have had some very good ideas come back from parents about what we could do. W are a school which has high levels of deprivation and we tend to do a lot of things for the kids for free. One parent suggested that with anything we run for free, parents who can afford it have an option of paying for their child and also another, similar to the pay it forward coffee shop option.
“We need people to be saying the government needs to be giving us the money to educate children.”
Catherine Fisher of the newly formed Save Our Schools campaign said: “The issue is that although government says it’s putting more money in, there’s more children and more of it is going straight back out to the government in various types of taxes and contributions – greater pension contributions, national insurance, the living wage, business rates.
“We are concerned that we will end up with larger classes, fewer teaching assistants and facilities for SEN children – if you have got a child with SEN that’s terrible of course for them, but it also impacts all the children in the class because if you have got a child who is not getting adequate support, it’s going to be disruptive for everybody.
“The real basics are being cut to the point where art, drama and sport are stuff you can only do at private schools and state schools are becoming exam factories – so it also links to the SATs debate where they’re being taught a narrowing curriculum.
“I have this image of tracksuited children at rows of desks just doing mock exams again and again and that’s what state education’s going to be.
“The amount of money that schools are losing is hundreds of pounds per pupil – schools aren’t going to be able to make it up by asking parents for that. And it’s a dangerous precedent to ask parents for money as education should be state funded.
“You see what’s happened with the huge rise in tuition fees in higher education – that’s what happens when you bring in a principle of paying for education. It’s going to exacerbate the inequalities. Schools are already struggling with issues around kids coming in hungry, and now they are being handed funding cuts which threaten the teaching too.”
Local councillors have also called on the government to do more to to fund schools. Cllr Daniel Chapman, vice chair of the children’s and young people committee, said: “Schools are under enormous pressure with their funding.
“With rising costs through inflation, increased national insurance and pension contributions, the apprenticeship levy and no extra funds to support these costs, schools are having to make some difficult decisions.
“A report by the National Audit Office late last year said that schools are looking at an 8% real terms reduction in their per-pupil funding by 2019-20 this combined with the removal of the Education Services Grant which helped the LA provide essential services is putting our schools under more and more pressure. The government needs to do more to support schools.”