State school headteachers are asking parents to donate money in order to provide vital classroom resources and repair crumbling buildings.
One school leader is even planning a skydive to raise funds for pupils, while a number of schools across the country are being forced to send children home at lunchtime on Fridays.
Ahead of today’s Budget, schools have warned Boris Johnson that his funding pledge will not be enough to reverse years of cuts in some schools and it will barely cover all the costs they face.
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Unions say extra funding is needed to cover the higher pay rises for teachers introduced by the government, as well as provision for a growing number of pupils with special educational needs.
The call comes as heads say they are still being forced to increase class sizes, cut subjects and shorten the school week despite the government’s promise of an extra £7.1bn in school funding by 2022/23.
Every secondary school will receive at least £5,000 per pupil and every primary school will receive at least £3,750 per pupil as part of the government’s three-year package, which starts next month.
But Rachael Warwick, president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and executive headteacher of three schools in Oxfordshire, does not think the funding pressures will go away.
She said: “I don’t think school leaders feel reassured about the future. It feels precarious and I think we will be forced to continue to make these bad decisions.
“The impact of that will be on children and the quality of education we can offer them.”
Ms Warwick has noticed a rise in state school leaders who have been forced to write to parents asking for voluntary donations in recent months – and she has also had to reach out for financial support.
“I think that will continue as there will still be serious pressures on school budgets. We will end up having to do things we would much rather not have to do,” she said.
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Bridget Harrison, head of the Rackham Church of England Primary School in Cambridgeshire, is resorting to a fundraising skydive because there isn’t enough cash for much-needed improvements at the school.
She hopes the funds will go towards replacing a first-aid room on the playground which is “falling apart”, as well as the school’s outdated technology, which regularly malfunctions.
On her decision to skydive, she said: “A lot of the parents think I am crazy. But it is a fun way to get the community behind getting some money for the school rather than complaining about not having any.”
Ms Harrison added: “The need wouldn’t be anywhere near as great if things weren’t so dire on a national level. Our budgets are so unhealthy, so every little helps. I am doing whatever I can to boost the budget.
“We have slashed curriculum budgets and done everything we can do to avoid having to lose any staff.”
The head does not believe the government’s funding boost will cover all the cuts in recent years. “Schools have taken a lot of hits and lots of them are at the point of ‘enough is enough’,” she said.
Hundreds of school leaders are coming together for ASCL’s annual conference in Birmingham on Friday – and education secretary Gavin Williamson is set to face questions about funding pressures.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said the government’s funding pledge “is still a long way short of what is needed”, adding that it does not address the demand for special needs provision.
He said: “The stark reality is that we will continue to see schools asking parents for voluntary contributions, shortened school weeks, and all the other manifestations of a public service which is inadequately funded unless the government makes the investment in education that is needed.”
Jules White, founder of grassroots campaign group Worth Less?, a group of heads who want extra money for schools, said: “In spite of some additional funding from April 2020, thousands of heads across the country are clear in telling Worth Less? that they are still profoundly worried about their future budgets.
“The most common themes are an utterly inadequate set of resources to meet the need of SEND children. They are and their families are being let down day in and day out.”
Mr White, who is also headteacher of Tanbridge House School in West Sussex, added: “We also worry that planned salary increases for teachers and support staff will be unfunded.
“If the government wants to address chronic issues in recruitment and retention, that’s all well and good, but don’t rob Peter to pay Paul and take any new money away from the pupils themselves.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We recognise schools have faced cost pressures in recent years, which is why we have announced the biggest funding boost for schools in a decade.
“We are investing a total of £14bn more over the next three years – giving every school more money for every child. This will give schools, teachers and parents the certainty to plan, improve standards and ensure all children get the top quality education they deserve.
“We are also increasing high needs funding for local authorities by £780m next year, boosting the total budget for supporting those with the most complex needs by 12 percent to more than £7bn in 2020-21.”
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