Education crisis deepens amid closure fears

Ray Henshaw, principal of Minsthorpe Community College.
Ray Henshaw, principal of Minsthorpe Community College.
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The education crisis in Yorkshire’s schools has deepened as headteachers have warned parents that financial cutbacks could lead to classrooms having to be shut for up to half of the working week.

School leaders across Wakefield have taken a united approach and have penned a letter to parents detailing the “significant implications” of school funding cuts, including fewer teachers and increased class sizes.

They also warned that the curriculum choice will be scaled back, support for students with mental health problems and special educational needs will be reduced, there will be less investment in facilities and resources to support lessons and fewer school trips.

Signed ‘Wakefield Headteachers’, the letter is the result of a meeting of the Wakefield Secondary Headteachers Standing Committee, which is made up of leaders from more than 25 schools across the city.

Member Ray Henshaw, principal of Minsthorpe Community College, said: “What we wanted to make clear is it is not one individual school or our own individual position. It was all of us sounding our collective alarm at the way things are going.”

Mr Henshaw said the nation was in the grip of an education crisis and parents needed to be aware.

“The cuts in education are every bit as severe as in the health service but you underestimate them because you don’t have patients sitting in trolleys in corridors,” he said.

“What we have to do is create bigger class sizes and cut classes that we can’t afford to run. It will take five to seven years for the impact to be seen, whereas in hospitals you can see it immediately. I think that’s the problem. Within a year schools could go to three-day weeks. Some schools are already finishing half an hour earlier, because they can’t afford to put teachers in front of the kids.

“There is an education crisis. We can’t recruit teachers, there are less teachers being trained. It’s a massive problem that really has to be addressed.”

Mr Henshaw said the first step was for politicians to acknowledge that the cuts were actually happening.

He said: “The answer is to stop pretending there are no cuts. You get politicians saying they have put more money into education. The truth is it’s not enough because there are more cuts in education than we have ever had. To dress it up in any other way is not allowing us to have a proper debate about reality.”

The Department for Education has maintained that funding is at its highest level on record at more than £40bn in 2016-17 - and that is set to rise, as pupil numbers rise, over the next two years to £42bn by 2019-20, it has claimed.

But Sally Kincaid, National Union of Teachers (NUT) Wakefield branch secretary, said: “It’s good that headteachers are highlighting the issues and the potential problems we are facing.”

School try and avoid being the first to shut doors

In the letter, the headteachers argue against the Government’s record funding claims, stating that in reality schools have been funded on a ‘flat cash’ basis for a number of years, meaning that funding per pupil has stood still while costs have increased.

The cost increases have been put down to higher contributions to national insurance and teachers’ pensions, the introduction of the national living wage and the apprenticeship levy. An increase of £1 million in the cost of providing educational support for children with special educational needs and disabilities in Wakefield and cuts to the education services grant have also been blamed.

Mr Henshaw said: “What alarmed me is when our accountants do comparisons between schools, there’s a tactic emerging that they are recognising they are going to go broke, but they are trying not to be in the first wave. So by the time the enormity of this becomes clear, there will hopefully be plans in place for improvement.”

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