Northampton head teacher talks of cutting back office staff to the 'absolute minimum' and increasing class sizes as funds tighten

The school funding shortfall has meant class sizes have got bigger at Caroline Chisholm School and school leaders have been cut.
The school funding shortfall has meant class sizes have got bigger at Caroline Chisholm School and school leaders have been cut.

A Northampton head teacher has said his school has had to increase class sizes, reduce back office staff and cut the number of school leaders because of the school funding shortage.

Headteacher at Caroline Chisholm School (CCS), David James, has told this newspaper that he has had to tighten the purse strings at his school as funding has become extremely challenging.

It comes after 7,000 head teachers England signed a joint letter to 3.5 million parents saying that schools were facing a "funding crisis", the BBC reported on Friday (March 8).

Mr James said he feels that there is a real crisis in school funding at the moment and schools, like most public services, and are only just keeping afloat.

He said: "Funding for CCS – like all schools has been extremely challenging over recent years. Out total annual budget has continued to fall – even though our student numbers have risen steadily."

Alan Hackett, the national executive member for the NASUWT Teacher’s Union in Northamptonshire said: "The NASUWT has and will continue to argue for increased investment in schools in Northamptonshire. But as well as investment in school buildings and classroom resources our teachers need to continue to be paid a decent wage for the high-quality education they are providing day-in, day-out.

"Teachers are rightly angry and frustrated at the seeming indifference of the Government to ensure they are recognised and rewarded fairly for the work they do. As well as schools that are safe, well-maintained and fit for purpose, children deserve to be taught by highly-skilled professionals who feel valued and are fairly rewarded for what they do.”

Although Mr James' school can still offer a broad curriculum at both GCSE and A Level, more children are now being taught in bigger groups as classroom sizes steadily increase.

Mr James added: "We have however increased class sizes and have reduced 'back office' staff to the absolute minimum – which is not sustainable. We have also cut the number of school leaders. We have stopped doing some of the additional things that we would like to do – due to a lack of staff capacity.

"We have been able to keep the size of our teaching staff constant and we have continued to fund our school counsellor as she provides essential mental health support for our students.

"We would like to expand areas such as additional student support – as we have a real need to support more students who are struggling in lessons. However, we have been unable to do this."

A Department for Education (DfE) spokeswoman said school funding in England is at its highest ever level since 2017 and the Government has given every local authority in England more money for every pupil in every school. In the last year, she says, they have also announced an extra £400 million of capital funding for schools from the Treasury.

She said: “A child taking their GCSEs this year will have seen an investment of around £65,000 across their education since the age of three. This is double the funding their parents’ generation would have received in real terms. Among the G7 nations, the UK government spent the highest percentage of its GDP on institutions delivering primary and secondary education."

The campaign group WorthLess? sent the letter to parents in areas including Surrey, Kent, Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Cumbria, as well as Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire and some London boroughs.

But Mr James has spoken of the similar struggles his Northampton school is facing: "We are, like all schools, expecting more from our staff – and as a result, teaching is becoming a less and less attractive career for young graduates.

"This is a national problem and something that the Government must address as a matter of urgency.

"Although CCS is able to fill all of its vacancies – the number of good teachers coming into schools is not adequate to sustain an education system for the future."

But the DfE spokeswoman went on to contest this by saying that there are 10,000 more teachers in our schools than in 2010 and the 2017 school workforce census shows that the number of teaching assistants increased by a fifth between 2011 and 2017.

But the department does recognise the budgeting challenges schools face.

She said: "That is why the Education Secretary has been making a strong case for education spending across Government ahead of the next spending review and has set out his determination to work with the sector to help schools ensure that every pound is spent as effectively as possible to give children a great education.

"He’s also set out the first ever recruitment and retention strategy to make sure that we can maintain a world-class workforce."

They also say they have recently provided £350 million in revenue and capital funding to local councils, on top of increases they had previously promised.

" It has been a similar story at Northampton College this year.

In January this newspaper reported how courses there were under threat from frozen Government funding.

Funding for 16 to 18-year-old college students last increased in 2010, during which time costs such as utilities and pensions have risen dramatically. It means that Northampton College needs £720 more per pupil to bridge the gap, with principal Pat Brennan-Barrett saying the situation is nearing a "cliff edge" for institutions across the country.