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Liz's Column Office News

Liz’s column, March 2019

On Monday I led a debate on behalf of Mr Andrew Ramanandi, the Head Teacher of St Joseph’s Primary School in Blaydon and over 104,000 teachers, support staff, heads, parents and governors from around the country who signed a petition calling for fair funding for schools. Their imaginative campaign, supported by every Headteacher in Gateshead, captured the attention of the public and forced a debate in Parliament.

Their campaign started with a letter. A letter co-signed by Head Teachers of Primary, Secondary and SEND schools in Gateshead, who became increasingly alarmed by the impact that a real-terms reduction in school funding is having on the children and young people in their care. The letter was sent to parents before Christmas informing them that schools may no longer be able to provide the same level of service asked them for their support in raising their concerns with Government.

School leaders acknowledge that more money has been allocated to education this year. But statistics from the School Cuts campaign show that 91 per cent of schools across England are still experiencing real terms cuts in funding per-pupil since 2015. The paltry increase in overall funding does not deal with rising costs and  increasing pupil numbers; over 137,000 more pupils in schools England, according to the Government – that add pressure to school budgets. The respected Institute for Fiscal Studies says schools have suffered an 8 per cent real-terms reduction in funding per pupil.

So, with increasing numbers of pupils and costs, schools have had to make cuts, resulting in 5400 fewer teachers, 2800 fewer teaching assistants, 1400 fewer support staff and 1200 fewer auxiliary staff across England.

In Gateshead, schools have also suffered real terms cuts since 2015 with an average £45,000 shortfall in primary school budgets and £185,000 in secondary schools.

Head Teachers tell me that as funding has become tighter, schools have had to cut back on essential resources: teaching and non-teaching staff, support staff who work with vulnerable pupils, small group work and interventions with children who aren’t thriving, teaching resources, subject choices, classroom and extra-curricular activities, repairs for buildings, including asbestos management and renewal of equipment.

Last Friday, I visited Portobello Primary School in Birtley where the Headteacher and Governors of this great school talked to me about their concerns. In the last year they have lost four members of staff to redundancy – all experienced teachers and Teaching Assistants and a dedicated school counsellor.

These budget reductions have made it harder to deliver key interventions with pupils and made it difficult to provide the personal and emotional support for vulnerable pupils. The school has lost decades worth of experience and curriculum knowledge and they are finding it harder to take children on educational visits and purchase up-to-date teaching resources and equipment.

Staff are taking on extra duties and the local community are fund raising. I applaud the commitment of the staff of Portobello, who are doing everything they can for the children in their care. Most Headteachers in my constituency would tell a similar story.

Steve Haigh, Head of Whickham School, told me that he too faces impossible choices, balancing job losses and cutting the support for vulnerable young people. He told me; “Hard won gains are at risk, effort and sacrifice over the last decade may be thrown away if schools are not adequately funded. I stand proud with my community for our successes and I feel every cut I have to make, well concealed, painfully made, shamefully felt.”

Dozens of MPs from across all parties spoke in the debate, sharing their own local stories with one common theme – there just isn’t enough money going into schools. But despite our best efforts, the Government’s response was shameful, failing to acknowledge what Heads are telling us. I was especially angry for the Heads and support staff who travelled down to listen to the debate. Their concerns were discounted and evidence rejected.

Our school staff simply want to go about their jobs; delivering high standards of education, preparing our children and young people for life and ensuring that they have the best possible start. We can’t afford not to fund our schools properly. The campaign continues.

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