POLITICS

Head Teachers Set For Showdown With Treasury Minister David Gauke Over School Funding

01/07/2015 07:00 BST | Updated 01/07/2015 17:59 BST
Paul Faith/PA Archive
Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury David Gauke speaking in Lisburn Co Antrim.

Head teachers from one of Britain's top local authorities will warn standards in school will slip unless funding is increased in an unprecedented meeting with a leading Treasury minister.

Up to 30 head teachers from Hertfordshire will descend on Westminster to warn David Gauke, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, that funding pressures are starting to bite across the county.

Schools are having to cope with an increase in pupil numbers, higher staff salaries and greater pensions payment at a time when funding is not keeping up with inflation.

All 11 constituencies in Hertfordshire are represented by Tory MPs, meaning the Government is facing an attack on its education policies from one of its strongest fiefdoms.

Earlier this year a survey published by the Association of School and College Leaders showed 90 per cent of head teachers across the country believe education standards will suffer because of financial pressures within the next year.

Nick Binder, chairman of Hertfordshire Secondary Heads' Association, told The Huffington Post UK: "I cannot remember an issue which has so united and concerned secondary headteachers in Hertfordshire as this anxiety about inadequate budgets."

Dr Chris Ingate, head teacher of Birchwood High School in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, for the last 12 years, said further pressures on funding were “the final straw.”

Speaking to The Huffington Post UK, Dr Ingate said: “I can’t recall that Hertfordshire head teachers have taken this kind of action before.

“It’s not just budget cuts, but the relentless pressure of raising standards by Ofsted and the Government.

He added: “The future looks grim.

“What schools will start to do is cut back on repairs and maintenance. They won't start getting rid of staff.

“All head teachers in Hertfordshire all run really good schools but they are running out of money.

“The Government is insisting on all children staying in school until 18, but the funding changes from £5,300 to £4,000 per head. That’s less money per head than we get for GCSE pupils.”

Those present will represent 80 secondary schools from the county – deemed as a High Achieving Authority.

Last year's GCSE exams saw 66.5 per cent of pupils in the county gain five A*-C grades - well above the England average of 53.4 per cent.

A report produced by the Association of Colleges in May 2014 estimated the Department for Education would face a £4.6billion shortfall by 2018-19.

The reasons include more people of school age and an increase in teacher pay and pensions contributions.

Before this year’s election, the Institute for Fiscal Studies claimed real-terms reduction in spending for the Education department could be as high as 12 per cent by 2020.

A spokesman for the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said: "The concerns about school funding are real. Along with rising pupil numbers and stalling teacher recruitment, funding is something all school leaders are worried about.

"NAHT research has shown that cuts to public services are being absorbed by schools by as much as £43.5m per year, and another £12billion will be cut this year.

"The government's agenda is still focussed on the challenges of the last Parliament. Their Education Bill has nothing in it that will improve the funding situation for schools.”

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “The NUT believes that schools are underfunded, some worse than others. Action needs to be taken to address it, but this can’t be done by cutting some schools’ funding to improve others. It can only be done by putting more funding into the system.”

As well as Mr Gauke, the Tory MP for South West Hertfordshire, other MPs from the county will also be present at the meeting, including Hertford and Stortford’s Mark Prisk, North East Hertfordshire’s Sir Oliver Heald, and Hitchen and Harpenden’s Peter Lilley.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We have taken a number of steps to make post-16 funding fairer, placing schools and colleges on equal footing. We are maintaining funding rates for 2015/16 so they can plan their future offers for students and have increased funding for students who get grades B and above - or equivalent - in four or more A levels and large TechBacc programmes, giving schools and colleges the green light to further help their most able students.

“Hertfordshire has received more than £141m for post-16 education and training, including £71m for school sixth forms. It is for schools to set their own budgets, taking into account our national funding formula, which ensures pupils on the same courses are funded equally, no matter where they study.”