Over a dozen headteachers and school leaders have united to take their call for a fairer funding deal for Sheffield schools to Government.
The group, who acted as representatives for 14 schools and multi-academy trusts operating across the city, marched on Parliament on Tuesday to lobby MP’s and discuss the issues they are facing.
At a meeting chaired by Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield, they spoke frankly to Shadow Minister for Education, Mike Kane, about the impact the lack of funding is having on the children in their care.
He also heard how many of the schools are being forced to axe staff in a bid to reduce budgets and offer restricted options at both GCSE and A-Level as they are not financially sustainable.
The national funding formula, aimed at redistributing funding to historically underfunded areas, was introduced to help the situation, but headteachers say a ‘mis-match’ means that Sheffield does not get a fair deal quickly enough.
According to 2018/19 figures, Sheffield is the worse-funded core-city in England receiving £743 less per pupil than Manchester, £589 less than Nottingham and £478 less than Liverpool.
This is having a major impact on schools, with many losing valuable support staff needed to help vulnerable children and those with special educational needs, and is something happening not only in Sheffield but up and down the country.
Kat Rhodes, co-headteacher of Tapton School, said: “We are not usually political, it is not something we feel incredibly comfortable with, but we wanted to do it because it was the right thing for the students that we teach.
“We know that moving forward we’re going to struggle to support them in many ways in terms of mental health and well being, and in terms of their wider needs without the funding that we so desperately need.”
The day of action was spearheaded by Ian Read, headteacher of Watercliffe Meadow Primary School in Norwood, who wrote a letter to Education Secretary Damian Hinds MP after being forced to get rid of staff to save £125,000 over the next two years.
He lead a small group who met with Minister of State for School Standards, Nick Gibb, to detail their concerns and ask what is being done to avert the ‘education crisis’.
Paul Stockley, headteacher of Bradway Primary School, was part of the group. He said: “There were seven of us from all different sectors across Sheffield – special, secondary, primary and so on – and we all said it as it was.
“We were talking about the impact on real children, real schools, everyday and how we’re very concerned about the future and we’re on a cliff edge as we put it.
“He listened to it all respectfully and talked about 10 years ago and how we’re all going through austerity. There was a sense that he hoped we were at the end of that period and that they were going to start to improve school budgets.
“I hope he has listened and taken home some home truths of what it is really like to be in a school in 2019 but more specifically in a school in Sheffield where we are funded more poorly per pupil than many other parts of the country.
“And, we are in a climate of close scrutiny where we have the same expectations in Sheffield as the rest of the country but we’re trying to do it on less money.”
They were joined by Sheffield MPs as they went to Downing Street to deliver a petition signed by various headteachers from across Sheffield which called on the Government to ‘save our schools’.
Speaking afterwards, Watercliffe headteacher Ian Read said: “I am really pleased we came and feel like we’ve done what we set out to do, to make a bit of noise and raise public awareness.
“We’ve met two ministers, the Shadow Minister Mike Kane and Nick Gibb, and to be fair he listened and took on board what we said and it felt like he did recognise the pressures schools are under.
“I think we got reassurances that the increase pension cost will be in place. He was also saying that they are going to fight for money for schools in the spending review.
“We delivered a letter from pretty much every single Sheffield headteacher to Number 10, so again it is sending a message that all Sheffield headteachers are joining the national voice and just how serious this is at the moment.”
Sean Pender, headteacher of All Saints Catholic High School, added: “We are dealing with a subject matter which can feel like a lonely place when you’re talking about significant budget deficits.
“So, the fact that we’ve come down in strength – that we’ve come down from all phases and sectors, 14 of us from Sheffield – we’ve been heard, I think it has been very optimistic day in that sense.
“We’ve got some responsibility in that sense to keep the momentum going and make sure that those ministers that listened to us actually give us those reassurances that we were asking for.
“Clive Betts MP has given us that assurance that they will look to organise a debate around funding and to make sure that is very Sheffield focused.
“We wanted to give a Sheffield perspective, we know it is a national issue we want better funding for all students across the country but we’re here to bang the drum for Sheffield and for the students in our schools who we don’t think are getting a fair deal.”