“Worrying Times For Education” At Belper Secondary School

“These are worrying times for the education of our children,” says the leadership at a Derbyshire secondary school.

The governing body at Belper School and Sixth Form, which oversees more than 1,200 pupils, raised its worries in a letter to parents.

In this letter, leadership say that the impact of the “school funding crisis” has left it with significant issues.

This has forced it to resort to cutting the amount of teachers at the school, which is rated good by Ofsted.

There are now 15 fewer full-time teachers than there were at the school in 2013 – a 17 per cent cut.

To further combat issues, it has also had to reduce the hours and number of support staff, including librarians and kitchen staff, by 15 per cent and cut leadership members from nine to seven – since 2013.

This has left the school, in John O’Gaunts Way, with larger class sizes, among other issues.

Schools are given a set amount of income per student.

However, funding for the school’s sixth form, the letter states, has fallen by 20 per cent since 2013.

Last year it received £280,000 less than four years before, despite having almost an identical number of students. This is due to the lower amount of money being given to the school per pupil.

On top of this, the letter explains that there are other rising costs which have impacted on the school’s finances.

It says that increased examination fees, energy prices and teacher pension contributions have added to its woes.

The letter says: “The cost of a teacher in 2017/18 was 7.5 per cent (£3,408) more than the cost of a teacher on the same hours and pay scale in 2014/15.

“In order to cover the unfunded costs of this increase, funds have to be diverted from other areas of the school therefore reducing funding and consequently provision in the affected area.”

Further burdens are the withdrawal or reduction in grants from Derbyshire County Council.

“Over time, these funding sources have dried up as less funding is available,” the letter reads. “Consequently, services such as careers education, education welfare and educational psychology, are now almost fully chargeable directly from school funds.”

At Belper School there are 15 per cent less employees/contracted hours of office staff, teaching assistants, librarians, cleaners, finance staff, mid-day supervisors, technicians, kitchen staff, learning and safeguarding mentors, exam staff, modern foreign language assistants, event support staff, cover supervisors and business support assistants than there were five years ago.

On this front, the governing board wrote: “One form of saving is to reduce the number of support staff that the school employs.

“This has happened at Belper School. Reductions in staffing make significant savings but have the knock-on impact of reducing the services and provision that a school can offer.

“This reduction can be in the form of less availability, less casework management, an increase in threshold levels so fewer students qualify for support or stopping doing certain things.

“One of the consequences of reducing the number of teaching hours available by reducing teachers and leaders is an increase in class sizes. This has happened at Belper School.

“A second consequence of reducing the number of teaching hours in this way is a reduction in the subjects and courses offered by the school and the number of groups that run.

“This has happened at Belper School with KS4 and KS5 where groups are not viable to run economically.”

Overall, the school’s leadership that the problem lies with funding reducing but the required spend increasing – leaving a gap.

The governing board states: “This gap is increasing faster than it can be addressed resulting in reserves that schools hold running dry. This is the situation that schools, including Belper School, find themselves in – a very difficult situation that impacts on children, regardless of what the Government or DfE say.

“It is a tremendous testimony to the students, staff and wider community of Belper and the surrounding villages that the school has managed to maintain its ethos and high standards in such turbulent times.

“The school has been proactive in coping with the difficult environment we find ourselves thrust into, knowing that it is very hard for all schools and we are not alone nor unique in the issues we face.

“These are worrying times for the education of our children, but rest assured, the governors and the school will continue to navigate the choppy waters and make the difficult decisions that are needed in order to secure a successful future for Belper School and Sixth Form Centre.

“At Belper School, we will continue to strive for an outstanding education for the children of Belper and the surrounding villages, and no matter what resources we do or do not have we will continue to provide for them as best we can so they can grow, develop and become somebody whilst they are in our care.”

In September, ahead of a county council debate on education cuts, a spokesperson for the Save Our Schools campaign, Diane Fletcher, said that 320 Derbyshire schools continue to face cuts with an average loss of £133 per pupil.

The campaign website School Cuts states that schools in Derbyshire will lose £12.6 million in cuts overall in the five years from 2015 to 2020 – based on the core schools budget which makes up the majority of spending.

Earlier this month, at another county council debate on school cuts, teachers stated that their funding was falling by hundreds of pounds per pupil, they cannot properly cater for children with special educational needs, one said that that they could no longer offer music as a class, and a student said her school – now an academy – could not afford to give lined paper to its pupils.

By Eddie Bisknell

Eddie Bisknell (LDRS)

Eddie writes for Nailed through the Local Democracy Reporting Service, in partnership with the BBC. The Local Democracy Reporting Service is a partnership of media outlets sharing reporters to cover council meetings.

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