Fears Brexit will scupper education funding pledge

Headteachers have shared their concerns Brexit may scupper the government's pledge to bring in a fairer funding system for schools.

Martin Brown (headteacher), Imberhorne School, East Grinstead. Pic Steve Robards  SR1621949 SUS-160718-172719001
Martin Brown (headteacher), Imberhorne School, East Grinstead. Pic Steve Robards SR1621949 SUS-160718-172719001

West Sussex has long been one of the poorest funded local authorities in the country, making it difficult for schools to balance their budgets as costs rise.

Teachers and MPs made their concerns known and, before June’s EU referendum, the government said it would introduce a more equitable national funding formula to help ease the burden.

With Theresa May taking over as Prime Minister and Justine Greening being appointed the new Secretary of State for Education, there are fears European matters will mean issues such as school funding are pushed aside.

Martin Brown, headteacher at Imberhorne School, spoke about areas he would like to see Ms Greening address as she took on her new role.

He said: “There are a few burning issues in schools at the moment that cannot be ignored. Key amongst these are the issues of funding and teacher recruitment.

“Schools all over the country are struggling with budgets that have been effectively frozen since 2010. David Cameron’s government committed themselves to delivering a national funding mechanism for 2017/18.

“We have very real concerns about the new government’s capacity to deliver this in light of the all-consuming work associated with negotiating an exit from the European Union.”

Those concerns were shared by Michael Ferry, headteacher of St Wilfrid’s School, in Crawley.

Speaking about Ms Greening, he said: “I would hope that she will ensure that the fair funding formula is implemented and that it isn’t sidelined using the exit from Europe – or anything else for that matter – as a reason, which I fear may happen. In West Sussex we are desperate for this to be implemented.”

Julian Grant, headteacher at Sackville School, said: “Everyone is, quite rightly, striving for the highest standards of achievement whilst at the same time encouraging the personal growth and development of well-rounded young citizens for the future.

“Schools must have sufficient funding to meet this vision with high quality resourcing and well supported staff. The students deserve nothing less.

“It is if the utmost importance that the revision of the national funding formula continues to be a top priority, despite the recent political changes.”

Ms Greening was appointed education secretary on Thursday (July 14) in place of Nicky Morgan, who was not popular with many teachers. She will now have to pick up the pieces following the recent teachers’ strike – and deal with the possibility of more to follow.

The issue of recruitment was also high on teachers’ list of concerns. Figures published at the end of last year showed government targets for the number of new trainee teachers in England had been missed for the third year running.

Pay, conditions and the overwhelming workload faced by teachers were among the reasons cited as dissuading people from entering the profession, particularly in subjects such as maths and science.

Mr Brown said: “Across the country we are not training enough teachers in shortage subjects and therefore struggle to fill such posts. Fortunately Imberhorne School, because of our strong reputation, continues to attract outstanding teachers even in these shortage areas. We are therefore fully staffed with subject specialists in all areas.

“Other schools are less fortunate though, particularly in more challenging locations. Unless there is a drive to attract more people into teacher training we will soon see a crisis in our schools.”

Both Mr Brown and Mr Grant appeared quietly optimistic about Ms Greening’s appointment – and they echoed the call from others in their profession for the secretary of state to listen to what they had to say.

Mr Grant said: “Education in this country is facing times of change and challenge at present, not least due to considerable curriculum and assessment reforms at both primary and secondary level.

“It is important that the Secretary of State for Education can give clear vision and leadership whilst also listening to stakeholders and being in tune with the demands that exist.”

Mr Brown said he hoped Ms Greening’s appointment would signal the start of “a better working relationship between the government and schools”.

He added: “Justine Greening was educated in a state comprehensive school and is committed to the idea of social mobility. I read into this a commitment to what comprehensive educations stands for, equal opportunities for all.

“I care passionately about the education of young people and believe that schools like Imberhorne deliver a fantastic education for students of all abilities. It is really important that young people leave school with confidence in their ability and a sense of fulfilment.”

Mr Brown said he and his colleagues needed an education secretary who would champion their schools and recognise their successes, adding: “We had little confidence in Nicky Morgan and her misguided belief that an alternative system, that of academisation for all, was the way to raise standards.

“School improvement is built upon the things that people know and understand, strong leadership, a sustained focus on teaching and learning, clear accountability and appropriate support for students.

“All this needs to be underpinned by the principles and values that weave communities together.

“Schools should be happy places which fill young people with hope.”

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