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Parents unite to fight biggest education cuts ‘in a generation’

Fears schools will be left with ‘skeleton staff’ as budgets are hit in 'massive step backwards'

31 March, 2017 — By Koos Couvée

Pupils and parents from Gillespie primary school send a message to the government on funding cuts

PUPILS, parents and teachers have vowed to fight school funding cuts described as “the biggest in a generation” that will see hundreds of teaching jobs lost in Islington in the coming years.

Thornhill and Gillespie primary schools – which have already had to make huge savings in the past two years – this week staged noisy protests against government plans to reduce their budgets, which parents and teachers fear will harm special needs provision, see class sizes increase and after-school and breakfast clubs cut.

“It’s a massive step backwards and it’s very worrying,” said Jo Michaelides, a parent governor at Thornhill Primary School, in Barnsbury. “I don’t see how schools are going to manage if they cut teaching assistants, putting more pressure on teachers – it’s not sustainable.

“We have children with special needs and children on free school meals and children whose second language is English, and there’s a lot of need. We need people with the right knowledge to support all the children.”

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) estimates that by 2019, Islington schools could have £12.5million less a year to spend due to increased pension contributions and changes to national funding allocations – the equivalent of 337 teachers on £37,000-a-year salaries.

Thornhill youngsters make their feelings clear on budget cuts

Parents at Thornhill and Gillespie, in Highbury, have joined the national, parent-led Fair Funding For All Schools campaign, which campaigns for increased investment in all schools by protecting per-pupil funding in real terms. It follows the launch of a similar campaign at Yerbury Primary School in Upper Holloway.

At Thornhill, 11 jobs were cut in a restructuring last year. The school expects to have to make cuts of £274,000 in the next two years – the equivalent of 11 per cent of its budget.

Thornhill’s deputy headteacher Paul Robinson said: “Extended days, the breakfast club, after-school club – we are left with difficult decisions over whether these are sustainable.

“We have poets, musicians and artists working in the school – there’s no way that we can sustain that, we’ll be left with a skeleton staff. The budget was already extremely tight and we’ll find it harder and harder to balance it each year.”

On Wednesday, the House of Commons public accounts committee released a scathing report suggesting the Department for Education (DfE) is unaware of the impact of the cuts in real terms funding per pupil. The toughest financial pressures since the 1990s are likely to lead to bigger classes, a heavier reliance on unqualified staff and more teachers teaching outside their specialism, the report warns.

Due to budget pressures in the past two years, Gillespie has cut one teaching post, lost a teaching assistant, two special second language advisers supporting Turkish and Somali families, and has stopped participating in the Music First Programme, which introduced all children to classical instruments. The school’s special educational needs co-ordinator is now only working three days instead of five.

Gillespie pupils Zerina, 4 and Faizah, 6, spell out their feelings

The NUT estimates that the school, rated “Outstanding” by Ofsted, will lose a further £143,000 between now and 2019 – the equivalent of two teachers.

Vicky Hatchett, 38, who has two children at the school, said: “As a parent I’m worried about what these cuts will mean to the school. This isn’t really about added extras, there’s nothing left to cut.

We’re talking about cuts to the frontline. The headteacher has said two teachers will be lost by 2020 and at a small school like Gillespie that’s devastating.

“This campaign is about raising awareness. These are the largest cuts to funding in a generation and that’s a big deal. Parents need to fight the cuts.”

Gillespie headteacher Mark Owen added: “It’s a big change and it will not improve education and it will not improve standards. This is why we want to raise the profile of this issue before they [the government] make the final decision.”

The government has said that the way funding is distributed across the country currently is unfair. A consultation on the new national funding formula, under which schools in inner London are set to lose the most, ended last week. It will come into effect next year.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We have protected the core schools budget in real terms since 2010, with school funding at its highest level on record at more than £40billion in 2016-17 – and that is set to rise, as pupil numbers rise over the next two years, to £42bn by 2019-20. These protections, and the wider investment in the school system, mean that spending per pupil will be over 50 per cent higher in real terms in 2020 than it was in 2000.”


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