The borough’s most senior teachers are warning that their schools are ‘barely able to cope’ with the budgets provided by the Government. Our education correspondent GENE BRODIE reports
A survey of Croydon’s headteachers has found that 95 per cent of them are either “unhappy” or “very unhappy” with their school’s funding from the Government.
The Croydon Schools Survey, conducted over the last month, shows that 92 per cent of schools have cut staff, with 73 per cent cutting teaching assistant posts.
More than one-third of Croydon’s schools have had to axe teaching posts because of a lack of money.
Headteachers reported increasing difficulties with staff retention, support for vulnerable students and school maintenance.
The survey was carried out by Sarah Jones, Labour’s new MP for Croydon Central, together with the Croydon Headteachers’ Association (CHTA), and involved questioning 54 headteachers across the borough.
In a meeting this week with Nick Gibb, the schools minister in the Tory Government, Jones and headteachers from across Croydon argued that the borough’s schools needed urgent help over the next two years. The shortfall in schools funding created by cuts since 2015 and proposals in the Government’s new National Funding Formula have left schools “barely able to cope”.
During the meeting, the minister was told how Croydon faces many of the same issues faced by inner London boroughs, with 23.2 per cent of children living in families affected by deprivation. Croydon has the highest rate of low-paid residents in south London.
Despite this, Croydon schools receive significantly less funding than inner London boroughs, and are even below average for outer London boroughs.
Under the Government formula for next year, secondary schools in neighbouring Lambeth will receive an average of £2,047 more per pupil than Croydon. Croydon’s primary schools will receive £1,212 less per pupil less than similar schools in Lambeth.
Cost pressures are pushing more and more schools into the red – Croydon has the second highest number of schools in deficit in London according to recent figures.
Analysis from the National Union of Teachers suggests that by 2020 Croydon schools will be £8.3million worse off than they were in 2015 due to increasing pupil numbers and school overheads. The Government’s funding formula, announced last month, will cap funding increases for schools at 3 per cent per year up to 2020, despite inflation continuing to rise. Some Croydon schools will receive as little as 0.5 per cent increase per year.
When school costs such as wages, pensions and National Insurance are taken into account, 88 per cent of Croydon’s schools are expected to see “real-terms” funding cuts.
The responses to the survey from some of Croydon’s headteachers will be of deep concern to parents in the borough.
“Recruiting a teacher with any kind of experience is out of the question as we simply do not have the budget for it,” one head said.
“The poor funding in Croydon makes recruitment and retention very difficult, which has an impact on the quality of teaching and learning.
“Experienced teachers leave for better-funded schools within inner London, yet we are dealing with the same societal issues, with far less funding to do so. It is cruel and unfair,” said another.
One headteacher linked the lack of adequate funding for staffing to the levels of social problems, including knife crime, in the borough. “The funding provided does not allow the kind of pastoral care and support that the children of Croydon deserve, which could explain why gang violence and knife crime are so much on the rise in the borough.”
The lack of proper levels of funding to support children with mental health issues, the head said, “will add to social problems in the future”.
And another headteacher spoke of how, because of a restricted budget, their school is reliant on NQTs – newly qualified teachers. “At the moment, we do not have the budgets to be able to attract staff and have to recruit NQTs, just to balance the books.”
Jones said, “The schools funding crisis is very real. Politicians in the Conservative Party claim everything is fine while headteachers on the frontline are saying loud and clear that there is a growing crisis in our schools.
“It’s blindingly clear from these survey results that funding is simply not keeping up with the increasing costs schools are seeing, and the unfair 3 per cent cap will cause even bigger problems over the next two years.
“The minister clearly recognised that schools were struggling across the country, but I urged him to look again at the funding to make things fairer for Croydon. Our schools are getting thousands of pounds less per pupil than other areas, more and more are falling into deficit. It’s simply unsustainable. Schools have been treading water for two years – now they’re starting to sink.”
Louise Lee, the principal at Oasis Shirley Park, attended Jones’ meeting with Gibb. She said, “The Government made it clear they want to see schools deliver more rigorous, demanding curriculums. But as I told the minister, it’s important that schools get the resources to do that.
“These survey results confirm what Croydon headteachers have been saying for some time. This isn’t confined to certain schools, budgets are under pressure across the board, and there’s a real sense of frustration that Croydon’s unique needs compared to other outer London boroughs are still being ignored.”
And Jolyon Roberts, the executive head at Pegasus Academy and the chair of the Croydon Schools Forum, said, “The inequitable system that sees Croydon schools funded at a much lower level than their neighbours is set to continue long into the future. Headteachers in the borough, along with the families at their schools, will continue to make clear that this system is unjust and seek a quicker route to fund our schools to the same levels as other London boroughs.”
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