Tuesday, 18 February 2020
PARENTS and staff at Langtree School in Woodcote have joined the fightback for fairer funding in the Henley area.
About 450 people signed a petition launched by head teacher Simon Bamford, who is just finishing his first year in post at the secondary academy off Reading Road, urging the Government to spend more money on education locally.
Mr Bamford said he was having to spend funds earmarked for children’s education on outgoings like staff and pension costs, both of which are increasing.
In previous years the Government has refunded these expenses through one-off grants but he has received no assurances that this will continue so has warned the school may have to cut subjects if it ends up footing the bill from its own coffers.
Mr Bamford was advised to launch the petition by Henley MP John Howell after he visited the school to learn about the challenges it faces. Most signatures came from the Langtree community, with a small number coming from “feeder” primaries such as Woodcote and Goring, and Mr Howell has presented the petition to Parliament.
The document warns schools face “inflationary pressures” and must often provide additional services like social care or dealing with criminal and anti-social behaviour.
It calls for the Department of Education and the Treasury to review the situation in advance of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, which is scheduled to take place in the autumn but is likely to be delayed by the Conservative party’s leadership contest.
Mr Bamford says the secondary sector is underfunded generally but smaller schools like Langtree, which has only 600 pupils, are particularly badly affected as money is allocated per student. In the past academic year alone, it has had to fund more than £120,000 in increased pension contributions and a further £30,000 in salaries.
He told the Henley Standard: “We have a history of fantastic results yet we face difficult choices as a result of necessary and nationally-agreed pay rises which we’ve paid using money that would normally have been spent on the students.
“This has been funded on an annual basis until now but we’ve had no assurances for the future which makes it very hard to set budgets as we have no idea how much to expect next year. It could lead to increasing class sizes or cutting subjects and other provision, which we’ve avoided so far. We’re very keen not to do so but it will become a possibility if we don’t see an improvement.
“We’re going to have to make some important decisions very soon while not knowing whether we’re going to get that grant – and without confirmation we have to assume that we won’t. Additionally, the money we get per student is not as much as we require and there’s been a drop in real terms so we desperately need a significant and sustained increase in that regard.”
Mr Bamford, who previously served as deputy head under his predecessor Rick Holroyd, says the school has been saving money by cutting non-essential services but is approaching the stage where pupils will be directly affected.
He said: “We’ve got a list of potential cost-saving measures, none of which are especially attractive. We’ve done everything we can to ‘trim the fat’ in the era of austerity like reducing our cleaning contract, which means we haven’t been as spotless as we’d like.
“We also haven’t been able to make renovations or improvements for a number of years unless they’re vital to prevent higher costs further down the line. This obviously results in the buildings deteriorating to some degree. We’ve got a rolling programme of IT upgrades but that often gets pushed back just to save a bit of money.
“Any future cuts will affect the fundamental nature of what we do as a school even though the students currently experience great outcomes in a supportive and enjoyable environment. The parents and governors are well aware of this and are hugely supportive of our petition.
“It has been a joy to take over as head of a close-knit school community where we know all our pupils and I feel very strongly about this. This isn’t just about numbers on a balance sheet but how the situation could affect every one of them individually.”
Mr Howell recently presented a similar petition for Gillotts School in Henley in response to concerns that its capital budget had been slashed while per-pupil funding had only increased slightly and not by enough to meet rising costs. Icknield Community College in Watlington has warned it faces similar problems.
While presenting the Langtree petition, Mr Howell told fellow MPs: “ I want to make clear to ministers the strength of concern in the constituency. I have been concerned about issues of school funding for many years and these petitions add strength to my arguments.
“I’ve become increasingly frustrated at what seems to be contradictory information and data published and want to bottom this out. Historically, the national funding formula has disadvantaged rural schools and often successful schools which is simply unfair. Some improvements have been made but this needs to go further.
“I appreciate that there are areas where additional funding is needed to support underprivileged children but there also needs to be recognition of the costs associated with rural areas.”
Parents and Henley town councillors will be marching through the town's streets at 10am on Saturday, September 7 to draw attention to the issue. The protest was agreed following revelations that Gillotts School is spending money intended for pupils on maintaining its crumbling buildings.
According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, school funding across the country has been reduced by eight per cent since 2010 in real terms while funding per student in sixth forms is now at its lowest since 2002-3.
29 July 2019
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