‘I am using my own money to buy resources’ - Norfolk and Suffolk headteachers reveal extent of funding crisis in our survey

Pupils in a classroom. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Pupils in a classroom. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Almost nine out of 10 schools in the region are being forced to cut staff or fear they will soon have to as the funding crisis grips, a survey has revealed.

Binks Neate-Evans, headteacher of West Earlham Infant School. Picture: Submitted

Binks Neate-Evans, headteacher of West Earlham Infant School. Picture: Submitted - Credit: Archant

As school funding fails to keep pace with inflation and rising costs, pupil numbers swell and grants are cut, schools around the country are fighting to make ends meet.

With experts warning that, on average, school budgets will be down 8pc in real terms by 2019/2020, we asked 75 headteachers around Norfolk and Suffolk to share their funding worries. We found:

• 23pc are cutting back on creative subjects

• 59pc are halting investment in equipment or buildings

Teachers have warned budget cuts are having an impact on the classroom. Picture: David Davies/PA

Teachers have warned budget cuts are having an impact on the classroom. Picture: David Davies/PA - Credit: PA

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• 44pc reducing the number of, or hours of, teaching assistants

• 31pc are reducing support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)

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Almost half, 44pc, of schools said they were being forced to restructure and make staff redundant, while another 44pc said they were 'not yet'. Just 11pc said they did not think they would have to.

Bob Groome of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers

Bob Groome of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers - Credit: Archant

MORE: 'I feel utterly desperate' - Norfolk headteacher's moving account of funding cuts

As funds dwindle, schools have warned that extra support and resources would be lost first, to protect front-line education.

Binks Neate-Evans, headteacher at West Earlham Infant and Nursery School and chairman of Norfolk Primary Headteachers' Association, said: 'School leaders have a challenging and rewarding job and are now in a position where they face a reduced, limited and very stark choice between doing what they know to be absolutely the best for children, staff and young people - investing in quality teaching and learning, staff development and resourcing, and providing additional support services - or not being able to do this.

'It will mean compromising and cutting corners with best practice by reducing the services they provide for children and families, reducing staffing numbers, training, curriculum and extended school activities.'

She said the level of worry among heads was 'unprecedented'.

Staffing costs, such as National Insurance and pension employer contributions, were the most commonly-cited budget pressure, though 71pc said a rise in SEND support demand had also squeezed funds.

When asked how they were making ends meet, 59pc said by holding back on investment, 54pc said turning to reserves, 51pc said rethinking suppliers and 44pc said cutting numbers of, or hours of, teaching assistants.

Children at work in the classroom. Picture: John Hocknell

Children at work in the classroom. Picture: John Hocknell - Credit: Eastern Daily Press, Archant

Heads showed concern over the impact of the proposed national funding formula - a government shake-up to the way schools are funded - with 52pc saying it would not help and just 12pc saying it would.

MORE: Norfolk heads warn of classroom cash crisis in letter to parentsBob Groome, Norfolk branch and district secretary for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: 'Parents are often not aware of what's going on, and only realise when, at primary level, their class sizes start to go up.

'Last year we were seeing a lot of teaching assistants being made redundant, but this we've already moved on to see redundancies for teachers and senior leadership.

'Schools have been cut back and cut back and we are now looking at the bare bones.'

In Monday's paper, we'll be featuring more results and case studies from our survey.

'Our school standards will fall dramatically'

Headteachers were asked to leave their thoughts on the funding crisis. Below is a sample:

• 'In two to three years time our school standards will fall dramatically, behaviour will worsen as we do not have enough staff to support in classes and children with special educational needs will suffer.'

• 'We are having to make a significant number of teaching assistants redundant. Costs for subjects have been reduced substantially. The training budget has been halved. We are still spending more than the money coming in. Our reserves are almost nil.'

• 'Our children are using outdated furniture and resources and almost no ICT... I am using my own money to buy resources for children with special needs.'

• 'The crisis begins with robbing the education pot for free schools and academies.'

• 'Although my own budget is just in surplus for 2016/17, unless I cut staff next year the deficit will be huge. By year three, without staffing cuts, the budget would be around £80,000 in deficit.'

Parental awareness is key

Bringing the scale of the funding crisis home for parents is key, schools say.

Heads all over the country have fought to raise awareness of the problems, in a bid to encourage parents and voters to lobby their MPs.

And though political party manifestos have pledged investment in schools, many unions and teachers say, with rising pupil numbers, it does not go far enough.

When asked if they think parents understand the funding crisis, 38pc of headteachers in our survey said no, and another 58pc said they did - but may not appreciate the full scale of the issues.

Just 4pc said they thought parents fully understood the crisis' severity.

Three quarters of heads encouraged parents to raise their concerns with their MP.

In March, NPHA and NSEL joined a national movement and published a letter - on behalf of more than 400 schools - to parents, urging them to reach out to local politicians.

EDP analysis

Writing stories about the schools' funding crisis is always a sensitive line to tread.

Headteachers are, understandably, wary of coverage - who wants to go out on a limb and say they are cutting support hours, or stopping investment? Parents would be alarmed - and school rolls might dwindle.

We don't publish these figures and case studies to scare monger, or point the finger.

Indeed, every head I speak paints a picture of unity - schools working together, becoming more innovative and knuckling down to see children's education go unaffected.

And while the severity and immediacy of the problems vary from school to school, very few have gone unaffected.

Our goal is to bring home the issues on our doorstep, ones schools are facing, collectively.

It is not in the future. It is not something we can shrug off for a few years. It is here now.

And if we hope to address it, we must first all understand it.

• If you've been affected by funding crisis and would like to share your story, please get in touch on lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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