Call for school funding as snapshot survey in Leeds reveals headteachers’ concerns

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Urgent Government investment is needed in primary education, MPs warn, in the wake of findings over deficits and rising pressures.

One in 10 maintained schools in the city is struggling financially, the YEP revealed this month, with executive council members branding central Government funding a “disgrace” as deficits trebled in the past two years.

Education was being “consistently underfunded”, executive member for learning, skills and employment at Leeds City Council Coun Jonathan Pryor had said, with a need for adequate funding.

Now, as findings from a snapshot survey of seven schools in just one constituency detail a “harrowing” picture of pressures, there are calls for action to protect education standards.

“Schools are at breaking point,” said MP Alex Sobel, who surveyed headteachers at primary schools in his Leeds North West constituency. “The profession is at breaking point. The teachers are at breaking point. And that’s not to do with pupils, or with buildings, that’s to with resource, and money coming into schools.”

In the snapshot survey, of seven primary schools in Leeds North West, it has emerged that all headteachers reported having to make some form of financial cut.

Since 2015, the survey found, more than half had reduced staffing numbers to maintain or ease budget pressures, with the greatest impact being on books and equipment.

More than half of respondents said they had made cutbacks to cleaning and maintenance services, while 43 per cent reported cuts to school trips and extracurricular activities.

All the headteachers said they were dissatisfied, with all adding that further cutbacks were expected in the future.

Budget pressures are impacting at a time when many schools are seeing a rise in pupil numbers, claimed Mr Sobel, with the result being an increase in class sizes and smaller staffing numbers.

“I would say these are all outstanding schools, but they are coming to the point where they don’t have resources to maintain that,” he said.

“We will see a drop off in standards unless budgets are re-inflated. The need for additional per pupil funding is now at a critical point.”

Headteachers at seven schools across Leeds North West had responded to the survey, all saying they had experienced the need to make some form of cut since 2015.

The schools covered communities in Leeds North West including in Otley, Yeadon, Cookridge, Pool, Weetwood and Headingley.

“We cannot continue to hit the DfE’s expectations for pupil achievement and take more pupils, with less staff and resources,” one headteacher warned. “We are at breaking point in this profession. We cannot provide the support that is needed for families without the funding to do so.”

A second headteacher warned that “curriculum budgets had been cut to the bone” to maintain staffing levels, while a third headteacher said: “As a school with very few pupils eligible for Pupil Premium Funding, we struggle to make ends meet and to enrich the curriculum of all our students.

“I know that other schools in Leeds have so much money, they don’t know what to do with it all. How are we providing a fair, equal education for all pupils in all schools?”

A final school, raising questions over the impact on children and staffing, said: “As older and more expensive staff retire, they are not being replaced.

“We have had to generate income without backfilling this capacity, which impacts on the quality of provision in school.”

A spokesman for the DfE said: “Whilst the core schools and high needs budget is rising from almost £41bn in 2017-18 to £43.5bn by 2019-20, we do recognise the budgeting challenges schools face.

“That is why the Education Secretary has set out his determination to work with the sector to help schools reduce the £10 billion they spend on non-staffing costs and ensure every pound is spent as effectively as possible to give children a great education.”

School standards are rising, he added, with attainment gaps shrinking.