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Schools ‘on knife edge’ with finances prompting campaign to fund books and pencils

Stretched budgets are ‘genuine negative impact’ on quality of education, headteacher says

Zoe Tidman
Monday 26 September 2022 00:03 BST
Headteachers say schools are ‘on the ropes’ with ‘tight’ budgets
Headteachers say schools are ‘on the ropes’ with ‘tight’ budgets (PA)

Headteachers have warned that schools are “on a knife edge” due to strained budgets, forcing them to launch a campaign to fund the basics such as books and pencils.

Schools are having to cut back on staff, trips and courses as soaring energy bills and unfunded pay rises eat up budgets.

Stretched finances were having a “real, genuine negative impact” on the quality of education, one primary school leader in the West Midlands said.

Headteachers are now using websites to appeal for help with purchases that they would struggle to afford otherwise.

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One platform, Lets Localise, has called for individuals and businesses to donate to a new campaign that will dish out money to English state schools asking for help. Some are looking for money to cover educational and playground equipment.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told The Independent it was “shameful” that schools were having to rely on charitable support because they were “so poorly funded” by government.

“The cost pressures faced by schools and colleges are huge and without additional government funding it is inevitable that there will be cuts,” he said.

“This will mean job losses, larger classes and reductions in student support, subject options and extracurricular programmes.”

Alex Rawlings says his school was always able to manage its budgets until now (Supplied)

Headteachers told The Independent this was already the case as they struggled to balance the books, with rocketing energy bills and pay increases expected to be funded by schools themselves.

Pepe Di’Iasio, who leads Wales High School near Sheffield, said he was having to cut back on “everything that is not considered an essential”.

This has included school trips and sixth form courses – such as French – that would have only small classes.

“Kids have had an awful two years and you want to be giving them more and better right now,” he said. “In fact, we are having to give them less and plan to give them the bare minimum, which is such a shame.”

Alex Rawlings, who runs a primary school in the West Midlands, said staffing and energy costs were going to “decimate budgets”.

His school has gone through a reduction in staffing and training and he feared schools trips were next on the agenda.

“It’s having a real, genuine impact on the quality of provision and education,” the Quarry Bank primary school headteacher said.

“We were balancing the budgets quite well over the last couple of years,” he said. “But now we are now on the ropes.”

Last month, a think tank warned that schools faced a period of financial “stagnation” without a new cash injection from the government, with spending power set to stay below 2010 levels as inflation drove up costs.

Education unions criticised Friday’s mini-Budget, which announced a host of tax cuts but “not a penny” for schools.

On Monday, Lets Localise called for donations from individuals, communities and businesses to help fund appeals from schools looking for help with purchases, including essentials such as books and stationery.

The #RaisingAMillion campaign – which it is hoped will raise enough cash to help a million pupils – will dish out the money to state schools that appeal on the platform for help with school meals, literacy resources, STEM education, music and sport provision.

“The funding by the government can only stretch so far and the needs of schools are outstripping this funding,” Joe Foster, the Lets Localise chair and co-founder of Reebok, told The Independent.

Anthony McGeeney says budgets are ‘tight’ at the moment (Supplied)

Anthony McGeeney, who runs the Galley Hill primary school in Guisborough, North Yorkshire, told The Independent he was hoping to find some money for art provisions such as sketchbooks and pencils.

“They’re not cheap,” the headteacher said. “But at the same time, we don’t necessarily have the budget to go out and buy the equipment for those kinds of things.”

School budgets were “very tight” at the moment, Mr McGeeney said. “We’re all on a knife edge.”

Mr Di’Iasio from Wales High School in Rotherham said: “It’s all about trying to get through this next year and hoping there is some light at the end of the tunnel beyond that.”

But he said he feared the future might be even worse for schools whose reserves will be eaten up this year. “If we’re in the same position next year, you’ll see lots of schools that will be untenable,” he said.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We understand that schools – much like wider society – will face cost pressures due to increased global energy prices, which is why all schools will benefit from the Energy Bill Relief Scheme, capping how much schools need to spend on their energy and giving them greater certainty over their budgets in the winter months.

Core school funding had also increased by £4bn this year compared with the previous academic year, they said.

Schools could use the government’s school resource management programme to “help them get the best value from their resources”, including recommended deals for energy costs, the spokesperson added.

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