Warning over impact on schools amidst rising budget pressures

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Urgent investment is needed at primary level to maintain standards of education, MPs have warned, in the wake of findings over deficits and rising pressures.

One in seven maintained schools in the region are struggling financially, The Yorkshire Post revealed this month, with deficits doubling in the past two years to more than £30m.

Now, as findings from a snapshot survey of seven schools in just one parliamentary constituency detail a “harrowing” picture of mounting pressure, there are calls for action to protect standards.

“Schools are at breaking point,” said MP Alex Sobel, who surveyed headteachers at primary schools in his Leeds North West constituency.

Primaries surveyed, across a mix of settings from affluent areas to those specialising in special educational needs, had all reported being impacted by cuts.

“Older, more experienced teachers are becoming disillusioned, and when they retire there’s a huge loss of knowledge,” said Mr Sobel. “The profession is at breaking point. The teachers are at breaking point. And that’s not to do with pupils, or with buildings, that’s to with resource, and money coming into schools.”

On Friday, analysis by the EPI reported that one in three secondaries are now struggling to maintain budgets, with average deficits totalling a half a million pounds.

That figure was lower in England’s primary schools, with eight per cent in the red.

But in the snapshot survey of seven primary schools, more than half had reduced staffing numbers since 2015, with the greatest impact being on books and equipment with 86 per cent of schools cutting spend in this area.

“Our curriculum budget has been cut to the bone in order to maintain staffing levels,” one headteacher in Leeds warned in response to the survey. Another added: “We cannot continue to hit the Department for Education’s expectations for pupil achievement and take more pupils, with less staff and resources.”

More than half of respondents said they had made cutbacks to cleaning and maintenance services, while 43 per cent reported cuts to school trips and extracurricular activities.

Budget pressures are impacting at a time when many schools are seeing a rise in pupil numbers, claimed Mr Sobel, with the result being an increase in class sizes and smaller staffing numbers.

“I would say these are all outstanding schools, but they are coming to the point where they don’t have resources to maintain that,” he said. “We will see a drop off in standards unless budgets are re-inflated. The need for additional per pupil funding is now at a critical point.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “Whilst the core schools and high needs budget is rising from almost £41bn in 2017-18 to £43.5bn by 2019-20, we do recognise the budgeting challenges schools face.

“That is why the Education Secretary has set out his determination to work with the sector to help schools reduce the £10 billion they spend on non-staffing costs and ensure every pound is spent as effectively as possible to give children a great education.”

School standards are rising, they added, with more children in good or outstanding schools and a shrinking attainment gap.