Saturday, 13 August 2022

Headteacher repeats call for more schools money

THE headteacher of Gillotts School in Henley has renewed her calls for the Government to increase funding for education.

Catharine Darnton has sent a £142.9million invoice to the Treasury, which she and fellow campaigners claim represents the shortfall in money given to schools across Oxfordshire since 2010.

She is among a group of headteachers representing the Worth Less? campaign group from schools across 32 counties. They say £1.7billion has effectively been cut from the schools budget.

They say that if the money was reinstated it would prevent class sizes rising above 35, cuts to extra-curricular activities, the closure of sixth-forms, poorer meal provision and the need to seek donations from parents.

In the autumn the heads went to 11 Downing Street to present a letter outlining their concerns to Chancellor Philip Hammond. Now they have criticised his response and say he failed to take their concerns seriously.

Ms Darnton said: “We’re disappointed because we are being relentlessly reasonable about this and even the Department for Education hasn’t challenged our statistics despite putting forward some of its own in response.

“Headteachers aren’t generally in the business of being campaigners as we’re primarily concerned with running our schools but we’ve put forward a logical argument and aren’t getting a logical reply.”

Last year Ms Darnton campaigned against proposed changes to the national schools funding formula which would have seen Gillotts and most other secondaries in South Oxfordshire lose money.

The Government backed down, promising an increase of at least 0.5 per cent per pupil in the next financial year for every school plus one per cent the following year and a £110,000 lump sum.

However, Ms Darnton says this is not enough to make up for years of under-investment in the face of rising costs through inflation and the removal of the public sector pay cap.

She said: “The Government keeps pointing out that there has never been more money or staff put into the system. That may be true but it doesn’t improve the funding per pupil or staff-to-pupil ratio when intake is increasing.

“This is real and this is happening but at the moment they are not engaging with the information we’ve provided. We need to sit down and explain what’s actually going on face-to-face.

“We appreciate that schools with different levels of deprivation should get more money and wouldn’t want to take anything from them but the differential between the best and worst-funded schools is too great. There needs to be enough money in the system so that the rest of us aren’t left behind. At the moment we face a slight increase per pupil in the short term but there is no information about the long-term picture.

“A one per cent pay increase currently costs the school about £40,000, which is roughly the cost of one member of teaching staff. You can’t keep meeting that without impacting the quality of education.

“We’ve cut what we can and asked teachers to work extra hours but those strategies have a limit and aren’t sustainable and we need a better solution.

“I didn’t get into the job for things like this. I want to carry on working with our fantastic young people and providing them with the best possible education.”

Henley MP John Howell, says the group’s claims are “misleading” and the new formula will be based on the needs of individual schools.

Writing in the Henley Standard in November, he said: “Although schools may want more and costs have risen, an increase in cash cannot be considered a cut.”

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