Scrutiny to consider impact of funding cuts on our schools

The responses to a survey which asked headteachers how they are managing financially against a backdrop of rising demand and less funding will be discussed by Peterborough City Council's Children and Education Scrutiny Committee this month.

Nationally the pressure on schools is starting to show and Peterborough is no different. Around 60 per cent of schools nationally are said to be spending more than their income. Pupil numbers have increased by ten per cent since 2010 whilst teacher numbers have remained largely the same.

To be able to better understand the situation locally and gain real examples, the city council's service director for education Jonathan Lewis wrote to every headteacher in the city to assess the level of impact that funding cuts have had on schools.

To date, almost 75 per cent of schools have responded. Those responses will now be used by Councillor Lynne Ayres, the council's cabinet member for children's services, education, skills and university, to write a letter to the secretary of state for education, Damian Hinds MP.

Some of the examples given by headteachers include using apprentices to cover roles, reducing the number of teaching assistants, headteachers teaching classes when there are not enough teachers to cover, increased class sizes in some areas and reducing spending on learning equipment.

One school reported it had cut certain subjects from its curriculum, such as drama, and another reported cutting weekly counselling/play therapy sessions offered by the YMCA to children in need of support.

Schools have also raised significant concerns about the requirement for them to fund the first £6,000 of a child's Education, Health and Care Plan, which means funding has to be cut from other areas including the budget for teaching staff.

Jonathan Lewis said: "The responses we have received from headteachers illustrate the very severe funding challenge faced by many of our schools. We are all working so hard to improve our outcomes in an environment where education funding has been cut by more than 10% real term.

"There has been government investment in education in recent years, but significant cost pressures and a sizeable increase in pupil numbers mean that in real terms schools are managing on a reduced budget. For example, pension and pay awards are not being fully funded by government leaving schools to pick up the bill and schools are having to provide more support than ever especially around pastoral care to compensate for services no longer provided by the council and health services which too have had budgets cut.

"This feedback from our headteachers will allow us to make the government aware of the very serious situation in Peterborough and the need for additional funding for schools."

Councillor Lynne Ayres added: "The situation in Peterborough has been protected through robust financial management in schools but elsewhere in other parts of the country, some schools are reportedly having to close once a week in the afternoon to give teachers time to plan and prepare for classes as they cannot afford to pay supply cover and others are crowdfunding for basic resources.

"However, Peterborough schools may not be far away from having to take more drastic action such as this if the government does not provide better financial support. Our class sizes are increasing and we are seeing less adults supporting children.

"I will be using my letter to communicate strongly the risk we have of impacting children's education and as a result their future prospects, if schools don't get the level of funding that they need to employ the right level of teachers and support and to be able to offer a full and extensive curriculum and improve our position in terms of outcomes."

The meeting of the Children and Education Scrutiny Committee will take place on Thursday 18 July 2019 at the Town Hall.

Read the report in full.

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