Schools in South Gloucestershire are the poorest funded in England, ranking 151st in terms of the mainstream funding from national Government. School leaders and the council are collectively calling for a significant improvement in schools funding for the district, which was not included in announcements made in the Autumn Statement.
Headteachers and school staff work incredibly hard to deliver the best possible outcomes for our children, but they are increasingly having to cut costs and sacrifice much of the extra support that young people need in order to balance their budgets. They are now describing a shocking range of measures they are being forced to take to maintain minimum standards.
South Gloucestershire Council Co-Leader and Cabinet Member with responsibility for schools, Cllr Ian Boulton, said: “Quite simply, our children are missing out on opportunities and potentially achieving their best, as headteachers are forced to make cuts to balance the books, because the Government is not properly funding our schools.
“If South Gloucestershire was funded at the average for similar council areas, we would get an extra £12.3 million a year, and if we were funded at the England average that would be an extra £16.9 million.
“We are not asking for a share of some other areas schools funding; we are asking for our kids and our schools in South Gloucestershire to be given the money to do the job. It’s no more than our children deserve. Our headteachers and school staff work incredibly hard, and achieve incredible things, but they are being forced to do it with one hand tied behind their backs.”
School leaders, including the Chair and Vice-Chair of the South Gloucestershire Schools Forum, have described some of the drastic cuts that are common in both council-maintained and academy schools across the district.
They include having to recruit apprentices as they are cheaper than fully qualified staff as teaching assistants; cutting school trips and clubs; sharing teaching staff across groups or schools, which is disruptive for pupils’ learning and for staff morale; reducing the time and temperature schools’ heating is turned on, so that teachers and children are left cold in the classroom; breaching class size targets to bring in extra money, but that dilutes the time teachers can spend with individual pupils; and huge pressures on Teaching Assistants, who provide extra help to children with additional needs, but who can often earn more money outside the profession, including working as delivery drivers.
Chair of the South Gloucestershire Schools Forum, and Headteacher of a council-maintained primary school, Pippa Osborne, said: “Schools across South Gloucestershire are having to cut back on things that teachers, and I think most parents, would think could be taken for granted if our schools were properly funded.
“Schools are doing incredibly well to appear on the surface to be OK, but too many of my colleagues tell me that they are hanging on by a thread.
“The things we are having to do to balance budgets will shock and certainly disappoint some parents, but they are all too familiar in our schools. In simple terms, the funding pressures we are all experiencing means we can’t focus on providing the best possible education for our pupils, or provide good working conditions for staff, because we are constantly worried about money.
“We are doing the best we can, but we know it’s not the best that’s possible, because there just isn’t the funding from Government.”
Vice-Chair of the Forum, and Chief Executive of a Multi Academy Trust that includes schools in South Gloucestershire, Dave Baker, said: “The picture across South Gloucestershire is the same, whether schools are funded via the council or directly from Government as Academies are. There simply isn’t enough money for us to do our jobs properly.
“Teachers want to teach and just as much as our pupils’ families do, they want to see our children thrive. Children want to learn and have a strong springboard for the lives ahead of them. But we are all being held back.”
Councillor Boulton added: “We quite rightly talk about different groups suffering or being at a disadvantage, and the need to take steps to help them. Right now, all children in school in South Gloucestershire are at a disadvantage, because this government refuses to fund what education costs.
“We are seeing a significant increase in schools at financial risk because despite everything they are doing to balance the books, they are still struggling to keep their heads above water. This is not a question of the competence of school leaders, they are doing the very best that they can and we are supporting them in that, but they are being asked to do the impossible. It is children and teaching staff in South Gloucestershire who are being made to pay, when it should be the Government paying what it costs to provide for their future.”
Council-maintained schools receive funding from Government, which is funnelled through the council, while Academies receive their money directly from the Department for Education (DfE). In South Gloucestershire, however, this funding is the lowest in per-pupil terms in the whole country.
For 2023/24, there were 37,748 school pupils in South Gloucestershire. The total Schools Block Funding per pupil was £5,233, which ranks 151st out of 151 local education authorities in England.
At a recent meeting of the South Gloucestershire Schools Forum, representatives gave a long list of steps that are being taken in schools across the district, which may not all be happening in every school, but are familiar to all Headteachers. They include:
• Reducing staff, particularly Teaching Assistants (TA’s), who can often earn more outside the profession. This is despite the fact that demand is often increasing for their support, schools cannot afford to retain them or replace them when they leave. This means more pressure on other staff, and less support for children.
• Reducing external enrichment opportunities, such as singing, art and sport.
• Some schools have stopped having lunch supervisors and use TA’s for lunch responsibilities.
• Having to redeploy staff across academy/school groups, creating instability for staff and students.
• Recruiting apprentices instead of fully trained TA’s as they are cheaper.
• High supply costs, particularly to cover vacancies for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) support is crippling budgets. As in other sectors, agency costs are very high. Schools report that staff often do not feel they have the security or support in substantive roles and so take on agency work, which pays more, costing schools more.
• Stopping Headteacher wellbeing/coaching, which in turn adds to the pressure on headteachers. A significant number of headteachers are considering leaving their roles, taking their experience with them, leaving a skills and leadership gap in our schools.
• Cuts to external behaviour and inclusion support for children in need of it. This disadvantages the children who need the support, their peers and teaching staff, as well as families at home.
• Schools are facing increased need to rent out parts of school sites, such as sports facilities and halls, reducing schools’ use and taking time from teaching and learning focus for school leaders.
• Breeching class numbers targets to bring in more money, leading to many class sizes exceeding 30 pupils.
• Growing numbers of English as an Additional Language (EAL) pupils, without enough money provided or capacity to meet their needs, impacting them and other pupils for whom their teachers’ time is diluted.
• Reducing numbers of classes and mixing age-groups to make budgets balance.
• Less capacity for specialist support roles such as inclusion, Emotional Literacy Support Assistants (ELSA), family engagement and attendance leaders.
• Extra pupils arriving after the beginning of the school year census is taken and not having money to buy the extra resources needed.
• Many schools report turning on the heating on later in the year and setting it to lower temperatures, leaving children and staff cold while they try to learn and teach.
• Staff mental health and wellbeing is poor and getting worse.
• Increasingly, costs are passed on to parents and schools are less able to fully fund Free School Meals (FSM) pupils for things like trips and visits, music lessons and clubs.
• Setting a budget with £0 reserve. The first penny in costs that wasn’t anticipated puts a school’s budget into the red.