I am deeply concerned about the financial pressure Oxford’s schools are under. The Government keeps insisting that school funding is at record levels. But ministers refuse to acknowledge the reality of real-terms funding reductions that have forced schools to reduce teacher numbers and cut back on pastoral and special educational needs support.
Last November, I wrote to all headteachers in my Oxford East constituency, asking them to participate in a schools survey. The aim of the survey was to establish the facts about school funding ‘on the ground’, and to better understand the practical day-to-day impact that budget cuts are having.
The results from the survey are very worrying. Out of the 13 schools represented in the survey, 77% had seen their budgets cut for this year, and a staggering 83% were ‘pessimistic’ about prospects for their schools’ finances for the next three years.
Almost three quarters of schools had lost classroom support staff, either through natural wastage or voluntary or compulsory redundancy. Although the picture was less dramatic for other types of staff, a clear majority had also lost posts in the fields of special educational needs, teaching, and leadership; and a majority were set to lose even more classroom support staff next year.
A majority of schools in my constituency also had to cut funding on areas including: books and equipment; SEN provision; teacher training and support; school trips; cleaning and maintenance; and external pupil support. 77% of schools said that they had made cuts to pastoral or counselling support; 62% had increased the use of unqualified teachers; and 54% had reduced the number of extracurricular activities for students. Aside from in the fields of extracurricular activities, cleaning and maintenance, a majority of schools anticipated that these cuts would continue in subsequent years.
I also asked whether schools had asked parents for money to help with funding school activities. 62% of schools said that did not, and I understand that for many schools this would not be appropriate. However, a significant number (38%) said that they had asked parents for contributions, either of money or equipment. The majority of schools that did ask for parental support used it to fund attendance at music, drama or sports events; while 20% of them used it to pay for library books, design and technology materials, or sports equipment.
This reduction in school funding is occurring ‘under the radar’. Very few people know about it, unless they have children who are currently in school. However, its impact will be felt for many years to come. I know that we have many excellent schools in Oxford, with teachers who work extremely hard to give the children in their care the best possible start in life. But they cannot work with children and parents to their full potential without adequate funding. As a country we can afford to fund our schools properly. Current ‘savings’ are just storing up problems for the future.