“Stars of financial misfortune are aligning over our city’s schools”

Teachers on the picket line at Bradfield School. Picture: Chris Etchells
Teachers on the picket line at Bradfield School. Picture: Chris Etchells

The national funding crisis continues to slowly rip the heart out of some Sheffield schools. It seems there’s not a week goes by without one city school or other making headlines for the wrong reason.

This week I met up with three other teacher friends in a coffee shop and we all discussed the state of our schools, each having horrifying tales to tell against a background of poor funding.
Just a few sips into my drink, the first teacher told me how their headteacher was proud to be standing up to the ludicrous pressures being placed on Sheffield school budgets. The headteacher had been one of a delegation that headed to London last week to meet an education minister and voice their concerns in Downing Street.
When it’s the heads who are starting to take decisive action, you know we’re in trouble. They are usually a bunch who have little choice but to implement the whims of the government.
It’s usually the frontline teachers who march and lobby, while the heads look on with quiet approval they’re not really supposed to voice. But we live in extraordinary times when the government is too busy messing up Brexit to focus on education woes at home.
Halfway down my cup of coffee, the second teacher spoke about their place of work -Tapton Academy – and shared the rather unbelievable story of their Trust’s CEO asking local folk for money to keep GCSE music afloat.
This is such an unbelievable state of affairs I didn’t know whether to spit out my coffee or just let it silently choke me in tragic despair.
As if asking a mate to loan him a fiver, out went the casual request to the catchment area via the media and various websites - if 100 families throw in £100 each we can run music as a GCSE. And if the community don’t cough up, no kids cannot take the music course.
Some parents may have enough spare cash in the catchment area to crowdfund a music teacher, but presumably this would be a regular request and would require parents of non-musical kids coughing up too.
Education at state schools is meant to be free. Shame on the government for forcing a school into this position, and a detention too for the six-figure-salary CEO going to the parents with cap in hand.
Don’t get your hopes up if you think educational begging could be the way forward - at the time of writing the fund had reached just £10.
The ethical dilemma about funding and government policy is writ large for all to see; here we have a school saying it has a broad curriculum - but only if you can pay for it.
Tapton School’s crowdfunding attempt is the educational equivalent of a night out at a restaurant when all your money has been spent on an expensive main only to realise you’ve got nothing left for pudding.
Coffee nearly finished, up piped the third teacher.
They were gearing up to strike at Bradfield School, where the impacts of the funding crisis are being made very public. A budget-balancing exercise has seen the need to close the sixth form and reduce the teaching staff by 15 people.
Not all will be compulsory redundancies but the National Education Union voted overwhelmingly for strike action to protest.
Fingers are being pointed in every direction - at the senior leadership team, governors, government and those who led the school years ago.
I’ve been on strike in the past and I know full well teachers do not relish such action. When it happens, they’re pushed towards it because of the pressure applied by national government.
But in Sheffield at the moment the stars of financial misfortune are aligning in a way we have never seen before. The outlook for Sheffield is bleak and we’re going to find it increasingly difficult to hold our own next to the other core cities.

We also need to keep the plight of schools in the spotlight. On a spring morning in a Broomhill coffee shop, these tales of three teachers have kept pressure on the government to implement funding increases and make sure our schools have a bright future.