Warning over school funding

By James HoreSCHOOLS are facing a “dire situation” unless their funding is increased next year, an MP has warned. It comes after the North Essex Network of Schools, a group of 17 infant, junior and primary schools from the Colchester and Clacton areas, estimated their budgets for next year.

By James Hore

SCHOOLS are facing a “dire situation” unless their funding is increased next year, an MP has warned.

It comes after the North Essex Network of Schools, a group of 17 infant, junior and primary schools from the Colchester and Clacton areas, estimated their budgets for next year.

Steve Hunt, finance manager for the group, predicted a typical primary school with 210 pupils and a new intake of 30 children would require £30,000 of extra funding next year.


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The current funding crisis affecting some schools in Essex has been blamed on the shortage in teachers' pension contributions and the impact of National Insurance increases - and has forced them to axe teaching assistants, materials and staff training.

The group is due to meet on Friday to discuss next year's budgets and Mr Hunt said: “What we have to do is keep the issue in the public eye.

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“A lot of the schools may not have complained because they took the decision to raid their savings to stay afloat.

“What we have here is 17 schools saying 'Don't put us in this position - it is not where we want to be and it is not where you want us to be'.

“I have tried to avoid the political argument - what we are saying is that we are at the bottom of the pile, looking up and saying 'This is the amount of money we have and it is not enough'.”

Bob Russell, the Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, backed the work of the group and warned the financial situation facing schools was grim.

“We have the Secretary of State for Education saying one thing and Essex local education authority saying another - the schools are saying 'You can claim what you like, the reality is we are facing a dire situation',” he said.

“I can only speak for the schools in my constituency, but it is quite desperate for these schools because they feel they are not being listened to.”

Mr Russell claimed the problems faced by the group were similar to other schools in Colchester and pledged to take their concerns to the Government.

Steve Goldsmith, headteacher of Lexden Springs School in Colchester, said it had to “radically” alter plans for the future after figures for this year's budget arrived.

It did not have the funds to replace a full-time classroom assistant and had to pull out of vital projects designed to improve school security.

Mr Goldsmith said: “I think that the great concern that the governors and staff have about the reduction in funding to our school in particular, and special schools in general, is the serious impact on what we can offer and deliver.

“The children, some of who have severe special needs, are most vulnerable. Another budget like the last one would mean reduced staffing, reduced research and educational opportunities for children.

“The concern that we have is the loss of staffing, particularly in special schools because of the amount of supervision and individual support the children with severe learning difficulties need.”

The Halstead Road school is able to generate some extra income from letting out its hydrotherapy pool for community use in the evenings, but the concern is now about what next year's budget will bring.

“We are really concerned that it does not happen again - this was real blow to our school. This one was far, far less than we were expecting, so we had to address our plans radically,” said Mr Goldsmith.

“We are constantly being exhorted to raise standards of education for children, but there has to be understanding that we can't do this without appropriate finances.

“If we had another year with these sorts of cuts, it would be disastrous for the education we provide.”

Iris Pummell, cabinet member with responsibilities for education at Essex County Council, said there was no more money available and admitted it was a problem.

“They are raising the issue of school budgets and, as I have been saying for a while now, there is going to be a problem next year,” she added.

“The only thing we can do is keep telling the Government that they have got their numbers wrong.”

james.hore@eadt.co.uk

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