A lack of education funding will see West Sussex children educated in larger classes than elsewhere in the country.
Such was the warning from headteachers as they launched a campaign calling for a better – fairer – funding deal from the government.
Every primary, secondary and special school head in the county has put their name to the Worth Less? campaign and headteachers are determined to make parents aware of how dire the situation has become.
Jules White, of Tanbridge House, Horsham, Peter Woodman, of The Weald, in Billingshurst, and Michael Ferry, of St Wilfrid’s School, in Crawley, explained that West Sussex schools were so poorly funded they could not afford to recruit new or specialist staff, meaning some subject options had to be dropped.
When it came to classroom sizes, an already serious problem was predicted to get worse – especially for primary schools.
Mr White said primary schools would “hardly be able to stay within the law”, which calls for no more than one teacher to 30 children.
Parents need to know that their seven-year-old will be in a class of 32 or 35 with one adultJules White, headteacher, Tanbridge House School
He added: “They just won’t be able to do it. They just will not be able to have any TA (teaching assistant) support. So parents need to know that their seven-year-old will be in a class of 32 or 35 with one adult.
“Primary schools will not be able to upgrade any basic equipment.
“Even in a school like Tanbridge – and we haven’t got any capital problems – we will simply not be able to do any work around technologies and so on. Kids will be disadvantaged by that and we will not be able to recruit.
“We will have to recruit non-specialists and kids will just get a much less good deal.”
West Sussex is one of the most poorly funded education authorities in the country, taking in £4,198 per pupil compared to the national average of £4,612.
In London, where teachers are paid more, the average figure per pupil is well in excess of £6,000.
The campaigners said that if West Sussex schools were funded at the national average, there would be an extra £41million per year in the pot. If they were funded the same as some London schools, that figure would be £212million.
In November, after much pressure from authorities up and down the country, the government acknowledged the current funding system was in need of an overhaul and pledged to introduce a new system from 2017.
While welcoming the news, the headteachers said it would be several more years before school budgets would feel the effect.
With costs rising and each school needing more than £100,000 extra in next year’s budget just to tread water, they have asked for the county to be given an interim sum to ease the pressure.
Mr White said: “When you think our shortfall from the national average is just about £41million, if we just said could we have £10million we would still be massively short of the national average.
“But sums like £10million would make a difference not only to secondaries but to primaries. Some primary schools are literally scrabbling around for five to 10 grand to make ends meet.”
Mr Woodman acknowledged West Sussex had been given some additional funding last year but added: “It was £1million out of a budget of over £500million. So it’s 0.2 per cent - and that’s a drop in the ocean.
“One of the hardest things the government faces is, if they’re not going to put more money in education, what they’ve got to do is a Robin Hood act – they’ve got to take from the rich and give to the poor.
“And that means there will be winners and losers – and that’s not popular politically.”
Mr Woodman asked some of the children at The Weald where they thought their school stood – on a ranking system of 1-100 – when it came to the amount of funding it received.
He said: “Because we come out as an outstanding school in terms of Ofsted, they made an assumption that our funding was outstanding.
“When I said we’re number 100, because that’s effectively where we are, they were not happy.
“I said ‘how does it make you feel that you are worth less than any other student in this country?’ And they said ‘it doesn’t make us feel good – not happy - why are we worth less? – why should that be?”
The Worth Less? campaign has launched a Facebook page and is calling on people to write to their MPs expressing their support for the campaign.
Cabinet member’s ‘disappointment’ over lack of money to bridge funding gap until 2017
In the wake of George Osborne’s announcement on November 25 that education funding would receive an overhaul, Conservative councillor Jeremy Hunt, West Sussex County Council’s cabinet member for education and skills, spoke to the West Sussex County Times
He said: “I welcome the chancellor’s commitment to carry out a fairer funding schools review to help poorer funded councils like West Sussex, although I will obviously need to see the outcome of that review before I can comment on the detail.
“I also welcome the chancellor’s undertaking that this fairer funding policy will be implemented from 2017.
“However, as West Sussex is currently the lowest funded county council in England, this is likely to leave our schools with a funding shortfall over the intervening period.”
Mr Hunt explained: “Our schools are already having to take some tough decisions in order to manage their budgets so they can deliver the curriculum.
“They are looking at reducing expenditure on staffing, possibly resulting in larger classes, and cutting back on professional development, equipment, and spending on premises and maintenance.
“The current low level of funding also means schools are having difficulty recruiting high calibre teachers and head teachers, which our children, parents and schools deserve.”
Mr Hunt added: “I am therefore disappointed that there was no suggestion of any interim financial support for our schools to help bridge the gap until 2017.
“I sincerely hope that the government will look at this situation again and award West Sussex, together with the other lowest funded authorities, some additional funding in order to ensure that we can continue to give our young people the best start in life.”
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