Part-time classes for school starved of money

Swanwick Hall's woes are endless: unfit classrooms, overcrowding, lack of teachers, writes Glenda Cooper
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The Independent Online
Funding is so tight at Swanwick Hall comprehensive, Derbyshire, that its headmaster, Robin Lees, fears he has no alternative but to make his pupils attend school on a "ridiculous" part-time basis.

Last year Swanwick Hall - a mixed school with 1,031 pupils aged 11 to 18 - received £1,737,000 from the county council. Mr Lees calculated that this was an 8 per cent cut (£150,000) in real terms as the school had taken on 50 extra pupils.

This year he expects to lose another 5 per cent funding. "That is almost £100,000. On top of that, we will have to find the money for the teachers' pay award, which will cost us £37,500 extra."

Unless the governors set an "illegal" overspending budget, the cut will mean the loss of up to five teachers. With 60 extra pupils due this September and class sizes already over 30, the school should be taking on two more staff rather than lose any more.

"If we lose that amount of teachers, we'd have to put up group sizes to unsupportable levels," said Mr Lees. "The numbers physically wouldn't fit in the classrooms."

His alternative is part-time schooling. Pupils in lower years would come in for only four days, either having fewer lessons per subject or alternatively taking less subjects.

"I want to protect those pupils on examination courses, so I'm faced with the younger years taking the brunt of it and having to have two days a week off. It's a ridiculous action in a modern society," he said.

The school has already cut back as far as possible on non-staff costs. Books, equipment and building repairs, which account for 11 per cent of the budget, have all been cut by half.

"We use old-fashioned texts throughout the school," Mr Lees said. "Pupils on examination courses do not have their own copies of texts and teachers have to rely on worksheets and photocopying."

School buildings are also waiting for £1.8m worth of repairs. The canteen is being closed next December, and two temporary classrooms have been condemned. Parents reacted angrily to the proposed cuts, particularly as pupils at Swanwick already receive £135 less per capita than the county average. They have set up an action group organising over 1,000 letters to MPs and councillors, and a petition with over 5,000 signatures.

One of the group, Lynette Protheroe, whose 12-year-old son is at the school, says the parents only want their children to have the same chances as anyone else.

"It's so hard to get a job these days, and if our kids have part-time schooling, you think will they ever catch up?" she said. "We're caught between Conservative central government and a Labour local government. Both of them are blaming the other. Whereas we would be happy if we could just have the same funding as other schools."