Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Parents and teachers join school funding campaign

PARENTS and staff at Langtree School in Woodcote have joined the fight for fairer funding for schools.

About 450 people signed a petition urging the Government to spend more money on education locally.

The petition was launched by headteacher Simon Bamford and presented to Parliament by Henley MP John Howell.

Most of the signatures came from the Langtree community, with a small number coming from its “feeder” primary schools in Woodcote and Goring.

Mr Bamford, who was promoted from deputy head of the secondary academy a year ago, said he was having to spend funds earmarked for children’s education on outgoings such as staff and pension costs, which are both increasing.

In previous years the Government has refunded these expenses through one-off grants but the headteacher says he has received no assurances that this will continue and has warned that the school may have to cut subjects if it has to foot the bill.

Mr Bamford was advised to launch the petition by Mr Howell when he visited the school to learn about the challenges it faces.

It calls on the Department for 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.

It says that schools face “inflationary pressures” and must often provide additional services like social care or dealing with criminal and antisocial behaviour.

Mr Bamford says the secondary sector is underfunded generally but smaller schools like Langtree, which has 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.

Mr Bamford: “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 and are very keen not to do but will become a possibility if we don’t see an improvement. Additionally, the money we get per student is not as much as we require and there has been a drop in real terms so we desperately need a significant and sustained increase.”

He said the school had been saving money by cutting non-essential services but was approaching the stage where pupils would be directly affected.

Mr Bamford said: “We’ve got a list of potential cost-saving measures, none of which is 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.”

When he presented the petition to Parliament, Mr Howell told fellow MPs: “I want to make clear to ministers the strength of concern in the constituency.

“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 councillors will be marching through the town at 10am on Saturday, September 7 to draw attention to the issue.

The protest was agreed after it was revealed that Gillotts School is spending money intended for pupils on maintaining its ageing 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.

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