Funding and staff levels in schools at crisis point | Letters

School governors urge the government to ‘stop ducking its responsibilities’ and provide essential funding

The signatories to this letter are the chairs of governors of some of the highest-performing state secondary schools in the country. There is a staffing crisis in our schools and we need the government’s help in resolving it. We are united in our deep concern over the threat to our ability to continue to deliver an excellent state education.

It is well documented that pay increases for teaching staff have fallen behind the cost of living over recent years. What is less well documented is the human impact of this situation. Our schools depend on the excellence and commitment of our teaching staff to deliver outstanding results. If we do not relieve the pressure on teachers it will be impossible to maintain this performance:

• Ten years ago, we had more applications for teaching posts than we could handle. Now we struggle to fill vacancies, especially in Stem subjects.

• Across the country, teacher training applications have fallen by 5% in the last year, with key targets for science and maths being missed. 40% of teachers in state schools in England leave the system within five years of starting training, rising to 50% for physics and maths.

• Our younger staff cannot afford to live near our schools. These teachers are no longer part of the local community.

• When our teachers want to start families, they have to move to cheaper areas. We lose them at exactly the time when they are most valuable to us.

• We are eliminating vital aspects of a rounded education to protect the teaching budget: cutting mentoring for vulnerable teenagers, because we can’t pay staff for extra duties outside the classroom; dropping the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, potentially making it the preserve of students in private schools; and not providing support for language exchanges.

The government’s recently published strategy on teacher recruitment and retention, while containing some laudable elements, fails to address underlying funding issues. Our schools are still just managing to deliver outstanding educational results for our young people, but this will not be the case much longer. The government must stop ducking its responsibilities and must provide the funding that we so desperately need.
Janet Pope Chair of governors, Camden School for Girls
Philip Bladen Chair of governors, Lady Margaret School
Fiona Shore, Chair of governors, Watford Grammar School for Girls
Victoria Simmons Chair of governors, The Grey Coat Hospital
Alp Mehmet Chair of governors, Parmiter’s School

• It is very true that “sixth form colleges have seen funding cut by 21% since 2010” (Revealed: the chaos in schools caused by cuts, 9 March) but for further education colleges these funding reductions are just one part of the picture. Adult education funding has also reduced by more than 40%, and now apprenticeship funding for small- and medium-sized businesses is likely to be frozen. Colleges have not received additional funding to cover staff pay awards, unlike schools, and have other costs to bear, including VAT. The work colleges do is essential to post-Brexit Britain, but they must be able to meet the needs of their students and communities. It is to be hoped that the forthcoming spending review does not perpetuate the gross underfunding of post-16 education and instead invests to secure the future prosperity of our country.
Dr Alison Birkinshaw
Principal, York College

• As a primary teacher, I too am deeply concerned about underfunding of schools, in particular the effect of austerity measures on those with special needs and mental health conditions. I do, however, take issue with some of the examples in your report.

At no time in my career has a headteacher asked me to help clean the school, take the place of a lunchtime supervisor, use my own money to buy resources or don a coat in order to reduce the heating bill. It is the responsibility of the managers of the school to manage the budget and when that budget is inadequate, it is their responsibility to take it up with the government and take the lead in making sure that teachers are left to do what they are best at and paid to do – teach!

It may be well-meaning on the part of teachers to try to ameliorate the lack of funding but it is naive and serves only to exacerbate the problem. Likewise, schools are not forced to ask parents for funding, it is a choice and one that should be avoided. Teachers and parents have to be part of the solution; not the problem.
Michelle Webb
Newsome, West Yorkshire

• Ongoing reports of a crisis in school funding and extremely high levels of teacher stress? Women are massively and disproportionately affected. They constitute 98% of early-years teachers, 85% of primary school teachers and 62% of secondary school teachers. Yet there seemed no mention and even less appetite to deal with this obvious but thriving unfairness, witnessed at the very centre of our domestic and educational culture, on International Women’s Day.
Philip Botterill
Moseley, Birmingham

• No one should be surprised at the state of our schools under this Tory government – it is all too familiar for anyone who was teaching when Margaret Thatcher and John Major were in office in the 1980s and early 90s. We dodged buckets in the corridors when it rained, cleaned the windows we could reach with floor mops, and got used to any broken windows being glued together because we could not afford replacements.

We still have a photograph of our daughter, with her hand in a hole in her primary classroom wall, taken by the local paper to illustrate the state of her school buildings, also falling apart from neglect.

School budgets were ruthlessly cut in real terms and capital spending on the school estate absolutely flatlined, until the advent of the Blair Labour government. This Tory government is simply doing what its predecessors did. When will we learn?
Martin Plaster
Westbury Park, Bristol

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