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Schools at breaking point

Diane Inglis

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Schools Stockport NAHT Andy Mellor National Association of Head Teachers Marple Hall School

Jim Nicholson (left) and Joe Barker at the public meeting

Schools in Stockport are among some of the worst funded in the country and local head teachers are now claiming that they are unable to make any more efficiency savings to meet their depleted budgets.

The issue was highlighted by members of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) at a public meeting at Marple Hall School on Thursday December 6.

NAHT President, Andy Mellor, told the audience: “Schools across the country are now at the point where they can’t make ends meet. We are the fifth biggest economy in the world and we are asking parents to fund budget cuts.

“There have been cuts in our budgets since 2010 and schools have had to trim away to maintain staffing levels. However we are now at a critical point and have cut everything that can be cut. There are no more efficiencies to make.“There are heads around the country who are having to do other jobs in school to keep costs down. One is also running the catering department, another is also the school caretaker and paints classrooms during the holidays. The problem is that if teaching staff are taken away from their core jobs, children suffer in the end,” said Mr Mellor.

Jim Nicholson, head of Mellor Primary School said that his school is funded well below the average at just £3,642 per pupil per year. The Stockport average is £4,200 and the national average is £4,800. Manchester schools fare substantially better with around £5,200 each year.

He explained: “There is not enough money in the system nationally but we are also marginalised on a local level in Stockport because of the way the funding is worked out. We have also had our annual funds for equipment, resources and staff professional development dropped from £31,200 to nothing in recent years and the money for upkeep of the school cut from £33,000 to £7,000 a year.

“All these things make it very difficult and we have had to rely on income from our before and after school club and also not replace teaching assistants when they have left.

“It has always been a joy to work in school but because of the financial restraints it is getting more and more challenging,” he concluded. 

Joe Barker, head at Marple Hall, also spoke at the meeting about the unfairness that inequalities in funding brought.

“Marple Hall is one of the worst funded schools in the country which is bad enough yet the way GCSEs are graded now means that our students must compete with others from much better-funded schools. 

“The percentages receiving each grade are set before the exams which means that our students must now compete against others who are from schools with much better funding. 

“Last year 200 young people from this school missed out on a higher grade by less than five marks.  They have been beaten by students from schools that will have attracted more funding. This issue is not about Ofsted, it is about sitting exams and our students are doing so without the support and opportunities given to others. This is not fair,” he said.

Marple Hall is funded at an average rate of £4,123 per student yet other schools, that are supposed to be similar, can receive thousands more per pupil.

“If we had the same money as other similar schools, we could employ more teachers, more support staff and have better resources,” said Mr Barker.

“Students should have equal opportunities to succeed wherever they are from. Not all schools should be funded the same and some definitely need more than others but similar schools should be funded similarly to make things equal,” he concluded. 

Cllr Dean Fitzpatrick, Cabinet Member for Education at Stockport Council explained that funding is worked out using the Department for Education’s national funding formula and that Stockport is currently ranked close to the bottom in both primary and secondary out of 150 nationally. 

“Stockport schools continue to maintain high standards of education across the borough despite the low level of funding provided but many schools are facing difficult choices and decisions relating to staffing cohorts to ensure that the cost of their budget plans and priorities can be maintained within the funding available,” he said.

“An increasing number of schools are facing deficit budget positions and the requirement to undertake a managing employee reduction (MER) process. Additionally there has been a reduction of £6 million in the central government grant to support capital funding in Stockport with a consequent decrease in the capital budget and reserves locally. This impacts negatively on school leaders for whom funding is either unavailable or limited to both maintain and improve the condition of their school buildings,” he concluded.

The NAHT is urging parents to get involved in the campaign for fairer funding by seeking appointments with local politicians to express their concerns and also by writing to local MPs including Hazel Grove MP William Wragg. More information is available at www.fairerfundingforschools.org.