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City head speaks out against £200,000 school funding cut

Cambridgeshire’s schools – primary and secondary – are facing huge holes in their budgets as a lack of government funding leaves headteachers facing difficult decisions that could have an impact on children’s education. ALEX SPENCER spoke to Netherhall School head Chris Tooley.

Chris Tooley, The Netherhall School. Picture: Keith Heppell. (7740097)
Chris Tooley, The Netherhall School. Picture: Keith Heppell. (7740097)

A Cambridge secondary headteacher says the implications of a massive £200,000 reduction in his school’s funding next year are “terrifying”.

Amid growing nationwide concern over education funding, Netherhall School principal Chris Tooley revealed he will be forced to lose a further six teaching posts after deciding not to replace five staff who left last year, including the school librarian.

He said: “The ones who suffer the most are the most vulnerable. It is terrifying. Every day I am looking at spreadsheets and I’m trying to see how we can protect the education and protect the teaching staff and insulate as best we can students from the impact of this, but there seems to be no end in sight.

“We chose last summer not to replace the school librarian. I feel awful about that. How can you justify not having a school librarian? But it's either that or lose a teacher.”

He reveals that every day he is looking at the bottom line, making cuts in every area of the school to save money.

“We will be receiving £200,000 less funding in September than we did last year and that’s before the impact of the two percent teaching salary increase goes through, that the school will have to fund.

“This situation is taking up every waking hour and some of the sleeping hours as well. We have had to reduce teaching assistants’ hours, which means the hours that support the most vulnerable students are being cut. They have been taken down to the minimum needed for those with an Educational Health Care plan or, in old money, a statement.

“But there are children with special educational needs that do not qualify for an EHCP, so we are having to reduce support hours for those children.”

He explained classroom teachers then have to manage those additional needs whilst doing their teaching job and keeping control of classroom behaviour.

But the list of savings goes on - there is no dedicated school exams officer, and the number of cover staff for when teachers are off has been cut.

“We are having to take a gamble that not too many people will be sick,” he said.

Chris Tooley, The Netherhall School. Picture: Keith Heppell. (7740268)
Chris Tooley, The Netherhall School. Picture: Keith Heppell. (7740268)

Meanwhile the entire leadership team spends hours everyday working as playground supervisors.

“Every lunchtime and every break time we are out doing supervision so we don’t have to pay for midday supervisors,” he said.

“It started last January. So the people in the school who are paid to be strategic are being strategic in their own time and in school hours they are having to go out and be operational.”

Mr Tooley expects some class sizes to reach 34 children when they lose the projected six staff later this year. He doesn’t anticipate redundancies as the posts will go through ‘natural wastage’.

“A large proportion of people who come into teaching leave the profession after a short time.” This, he says, is down to the pressure of the job.

In the autumn he may have to consider switching the heating on later or dropping the heat by a couple of degrees. And he has changed the school cleaning contracts so that staff areas are cleaned less often in order to preserve cleaning of classrooms and other student areas.

He added that all schools face the risk of reduced educational standards and said: “Schools’ Ofsted gradings which have been hard won are now under threat as the infrastructure which enabled them to achieve it is having to be dismantled.”

The Department for Education has said that school funding in England will rise to a record £43.5billion by 2020, and that funding for pupils with additional needs has risen from £5 billion in 2013 to more than £6billion this year.

However, the WorthLess campaign letter signed by Mr Tooley and 7,000 other heads claims that since 2010 school budgets have been reduced in real terms by eight per cent and by 20 per cent at post-16.

“We are being left in an increasingly desperate situation,” said Mr Tooley.

“The amount of funding which schools receive for resourcing each student - in terms of chemicals for science, equipment for PE, materials for technology and textbooks - amounts to £42 per year. A single text book can cost £40.

“It is not sustainable. We are just trying to cut everything we possibly can and are having to make decisions on staffing whereby things we know are really valuable are having to stop.

“Teachers, nurses, doctors and police are so frighteningly committed to their jobs that they get exploited. We are not prepared to do a half-good job, so they arrive early in the morning and don’t leave until 7pm and then take books home with them. But it is fracturing to a point where a breath of wind will cause it to shatter.”

Cambridge's Labour MP Daniel Zeichner said: "The comments from Chris Tooley at Netherhall echo what I hear week in and week out when I visit schools across the city. Without a doubt the extent of the funding crisis in our schools is critical and if the direction of travel for education policy doesn't change quickly, we are at risk of seeing a whole generation of children and young people being left behind. That is completely unacceptable and will have long term impacts for our communities up and down the country.

“When the Chancellor gives his spending review speech there needs to be a lot more than just 'the little extras' for schools. My fear is that with the uncertainty around our future relationship with the European Union, schools are going to be told once again that they need to hold out and that austerity is coming to an end. In reality, it will take a Labour Government to sort out the mess the Tories have left in the education sector. Education is a key policy area for me and I will continue at every opportunity to support our schools in Parliament."

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