During the election and in the months since, one of the most worrying issues raised with me is the financial pressure our schools are under. The Conservative Government keep saying everything is fine, while teachers, headteachers and parents on the front line are saying loud at clear that there is a growing funding crisis in schools.
New analysis from the NUT estimates Croydon schools will have seen effective cuts of £8.3m by 2020. The large number of conversations I have had with teachers and headteachers support this, however some people continue to doubt these calculations and claim schools are better off than before.
So I've surveyed over 50 Croydon headteachers myself to get to the facts. Then I brought some of those headteachers to Westminster to present the survey results to the schools minister and explain the pressures our schools are under. The results of the survey are very clear, and quite shocking:
Read more about the results by clicking the link below.
The Croydon Schools Survey, carried out in association with the Croydon Headteachers' Association, reveals widespread cuts to school staff across our borough and headteachers who are increasingly finding it impossible to make ends meet. 95% of heads said they were either ‘unsatisfied’ (20%) or ‘very unsatisfied’ (75%) with their school’s current funding situation.
Perhaps most worryingly, 92% of schools responding to survey have cut staff numbers since 2015 due to funding pressures. Some of the highest cuts have been seen in teaching assistant staff (three quarters of schools have cut their numbers) who play a crucial role supporting students with learning or behavioural difficulties.
Over a third of schools have also had to cut front line teacher numbers, despite Croydon overall seeing our school-age population increasing. Croydon has the largest under 18 population in London and it will increase by approximately 8,000 by 2021. Over the coming weeks I'll be publishing more results from the survey, particularly the impact on Special Educational Needs (SEN) provision in schools.
The impact of these staffing cuts goes far beyond the classroom. As one headteacher explained:
"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. Nor is there sufficient funding to properly support children with mental health issues in school - and this will add to social problems in the future."
I took three headteachers to Parliament to meet with the Schools Minister Nick Gibb. We told him our schools need 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.
Croydon is in a particularly difficult position because we face many of the same issues as inner London boroughs, with 23.2% of children living in families affected by deprivation and the highest rate of low paid residents in south London. Despite this, Croydon schools receive significantly less funding than inner London boroughs, and we get below average even for outer London boroughs.
Under current Government plans for next year, secondary schools in neighbouring Lambeth will receive an average of £2,047 more per pupil than Croydon under the new formula, while the average discrepancy for primary schools will be £1,212. These unfair funding allocations are pushing more and more schools into the red - Croydon now has the second highest number of schools in deficit in London.
Jolyon Roberts, one of the headteachers who attended the meeting with the Schools Minister and current Chair of the Croydon Schools Forum, said:
"The much delayed 'Fairer Funding' for schools will be anything but fair for Croydon. The inequitable system that sees Croydon schools funded at a much lower level than their geographical 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.”
The Government’s new funding formula, announced last month, will cap funding increases for schools at 3% per year up to 2020. That's despite inflation continuing to rise - it jumped to 2.9% last month. Some Croydon schools will receive as little as 0.5% per year. When increasing school costs such as wages, pensions and National Insurance are taken into account, 88% of Croydon’s schools are expected to see ‘real-terms’ funding cuts. The Government are saying they're putting £1.3bn extra into our schools but that money is actually being recycled from the existing education budget. That means hundreds of millions of of pounds cut from school maintenance budgets, and the Further Education budget, which supports our own Croydon College, under threat.
The Schools Minister clearly recognised that schools were struggling across the country, but he could offer no respite for our schools in Croydon. Our schools are getting thousands of pounds less per pupil than other areas, more and more are falling into deficit and it’s simply unsustainable. Schools have been treading water for two years - now they’re starting to sink. I'm going to continue working with schools and calling for fairer funding for Croydon as well as new money for education when the Chancellor announces his Autumn Budget next month.