Through our Erdington District, we conducted a survey of the 41 junior, infant, special and secondary schools in Erdington. With our Member of Parliament, Jack Dromey, we took our findings to meet Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, and detailed the impact of school budget cuts on our children and young people, their parents and our teaching and support staff
Michelle Gay – Head of Osborne Primary, Vicky Nussey – Head of Paget Primary, Jon Smart – Head of Brookvale Primary, Julie Anne Tallon – Head of Abbey RC Primary, Helen Hastilow – Head of Slade Primary, Anna Stevenson – Head of Birches Green Infants, Helen Slack – Head of Twickenham Primary
Introduction by Jack Dromey, MP for Birmingham Erdington
Erdington is rich in talent but is one of the poorest constituencies in the country. That makes it all the more important that every child and young person is given the best possible start in life
I have seen first-hand the outstanding work of our inspiring Head Teachers, our dedicated teachers and school support staff passionate about the work that they do, all determined to make a real difference to the lives of young people in Erdington.
I have seen lives transformed, futures built with young people going to university from families where no one in their remotest family had ever been to university. I have seen children from deprived households with often struggling parents have their life chances transformed by the support our local schools give. And I have seen the joy when those who have despaired see that there is hope after all, pupils that succeed and parents that enjoy the joy of parenthood.
It is nothing short of tragic now to see the damage being done to the life chances of a whole generation by cuts to school budgets. This is the first generation growing up since the War with worse prospects than their mums and dads. That cannot be right!
This is the story as to what is happening in Erdington told by some of the finest Head Teachers in Birmingham and Britain. This is their story in their words detailing the consequences that will flow unless the Government listens. With the Budget looming on 22nd November, their voice, the voice of children and young people and the voice of their parents must be heard.
Erdington schools carried out a survey of the services that they currently provide and forecasted whether they could continue to provide all of these services in 2020.
The survey showed about half of head teachers would cease to offer in school family support services to parents, who see our schools as a haven of security. With the scaling back of NHS services, children’s centres and other community based initiatives, schools will no longer be able to plug this deficit, creating a bigger gap in social justice.
Even scarier is the shift in the personnel within classrooms, this is forecast to be heavily reduced. Over two thirds of head teachers will not be able to pay to have Teaching Assistants working within each classroom. Children will lose this direct influence of quality first teaching. Two thirds of head teachers will also cease to employ additional teachers, whose function is to work in smaller groups on intervention, with children who are yet to meet the expected standard or as a way to minimise the costs of sickness cover. Just under 60% of head teachers will cease to offer 1:1 support for individual pupils who would benefit from personalised learning and having their social, emotional and mental health needs met.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has identified that schools have suffered a real terms loss of 2.8bn since 2015 and that seven out of ten head teacher colleagues have identified that their budget will be untenable by 2019. The NAHT have identified that £2bn extra funding per year has been needed since 2015 just to keep on top of rising costs.
Having looked at the indicative budget for an Erdington school, following the new formula it will receive £4k more funding in 2018/19. This is nowhere near enough to be able to continue the excellent service we provide for families and children. This is a similar story across the country and in Birmingham. In effect, budgets are not even standing still. Whilst there has been a commitment not to cut the education budget, three years of no increased investment is leaving schools on the brink of catastrophe.
Increased staffing costs through progression and percentage salary increases, increased pension contribution, increased NI contributions, apprenticeship levy and increased utility costs etc. have meant that schools are finding themselves in a position of redundancy and having to cut vital services that are essential for the good of our parents and children in an area that is one of the poorest in the country.
The reduction and changes to funding to Early Years will lead to devastating consequences if we do not do something about it quickly. It is clear that investment into high quality early years education is crucial to the viability of our whole economic system. If we fail to invest properly into early years we fear that schools’ jobs will become even more difficult as we take in children into either nursery or reception that are well below the national expectation for children their age. The funding of nursery schools is a particular concern not only in Erdington but nationally. Colleagues across Birmingham recognise and identify the impact teacher led early years provision can have on the life chances of our children.
Schools are already making incredibly difficult decisions at a time when parents and children need us more than ever. Redundancy is common place in Erdington alongside the reduction of crucial services including mentoring, counselling and speech and language therapy. The list goes on. Our own Erdington survey clearly illustrates the lengths schools will have to go through to ensure schools are viable and not racking up large debts against the public purse.
The negative impact of the current trajectory of funding will be massive. Children will no longer be school ready leading to an increased amount of behaviour issues inevitably leading to higher exclusion rates with little or no provision once exclusion takes place. The reduction of children centre support in our area in particular will lead to increased safeguarding and child protection issues that will destroy an already broken system. It will be left up to schools to widen their remit further and become all things to all people but this is not possible as we are having to cut many of the services that are required already and the increased services that will be required in the future.
We worry for the life chances of our young people because of this. Outcomes will inevitably be lower as schools struggle to cope with a broken early years system and family support services that can no longer provide for the families in need.
The new fairer funding formula does not make it fair to the brothers and sisters of Birmingham pupils who have gone before them. The future looks bleak: teachers educating classes of 30 pupils plus, without the support of a Teaching Assistant; an intervention Teacher or 1:1 support; delivering a streamlined curriculum, never being able to take their class out on a visit to broaden children’s experiences of life. Cooped up in their classroom, with a decreasing budget to kit out their learning programmes, often subsiding glue sticks, pencils and other resources from their own wages.
A Case Study
Working in Erdington and Kingstanding has always been full of challenges, and we all aim to ensure our children achieve the highest educational standards. The challenges faced by some of our children, however, are so great that many resources have to be put in place to ensure they are ready and able to learn. Inclusion does not mean the same for everyone: it means ensuring everyone has the same opportunities.
This is perhaps best illustrated by a case study of one of the families at school. The family is not unusual and could be one of many.
There are three children in the family, but only the two youngest boys (aged 7 and 4) come to our school. Mum can’t read and often struggles with many things. There are no carpets in her house and clothes are stored in bin bags. The youngest boys’ dad died during the night last year, and mum called school for help as soon as the school opened in the morning. The Pastoral Lead and Deputy Head then helped call the ambulance and support mum and the children until other friends arrived. Mum moved a new partner into the family home within 4 days and is now remarried and pregnant.
Every day we give the two boys breakfast because they come to the school hungry. On Friday we give them extra lunch and send them home with a food parcel because we know they might not eat at the weekend. There are no toys or books at home. We buy them PE kits, school uniform including shoes, and pay for all school trips. We also spend time with the family trying to support them with establishing normal routines. School is the one place mum trusts and the boys feel safe and happy. We also provide free holiday play schemes so that the children have somewhere to go in school holidays. The family continue to lurch between family support, social care and health support, but as is the case in many situations, resources are scarce.
Neither of the boys have been on holiday or been out of the estate in which they live, so we make sure our school trips include the most basic of experiences (for example, a trip to a forest, up a mountain, to a river, a farm, the seaside, a castle, the cinema), as well as other more curriculum-led visits. In addition to school trips, we provide lots of free after school clubs, including sports, arts and music because all children have the right to these experiences and joys. All of this support and lots of targeted intervention and high quality teaching meant that the oldest boy achieved ARE at KS1 despite entering school significantly below the national average.
Surely this is what education must be about. School funding cuts will mean that many of these services and experiences will have to stop.
My question to those who make funding decisions is: which do I take away? Education funding should not be about equality of funding with all schools receiving the same, because all children do not have equal life chances. We live in a deeply divided society where the gap between the haves and the have nots seems to be widening. Education can bridge that gap and help to end poverty, but only if we are able to support and enable the whole child.
Cohort Case Study in One Form Entry School
We have a year six cohort in our one form entry school with:
63% disadvantaged compared to 25% nationally
54% with English as an additional language (EAL) compared to 20% nationally
29% SEND compared to 12% nationally
13% close to permanent exclusion
53% had been at the school since Y3 and 25% arrived in Y4
13% arrived new in year six and 8% of those were new to the UK
33% had significant family difficulties
79% had significant social, emotional and family issues
4% with a life threatening medical condition
20% with a diagnosis of Autism.
Bearing in mind, that this cohort (one form entry) is compared to all types of schools for attainment and to a slightly lesser degree in progress, many of whom do not even experience one of these barriers let alone all of them together. Yet this school, like so many others, are presented to the public as failures via crude data which does not represent the efforts, improved outcomes and resilience shown by children and staff.
The extensive strategies used to overcome the barriers include:
- Full time Teaching Assistant
- Two trained Speech and Language TA’s
- Attendance Officer
- Behaviour support
- Interpreters working with parents
- Two EAL TA’s
- Six designated safeguarding leaders
- In school counsellor
- Learning Mentor
- Two Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs)
- Pastoral Manager
- Two Trained ASC TA’s
- 1:1 mentoring from senior leaders.
The cost, excluding school staff, was £36 307. However, the school received £19 800 for this cohort via the Pupil Premium Grant.
Each of the services we provide is a vital lifeline to our children, parents and families. Without the proper funding we cannot improve:
- our children’s experiences and home life
- their learning outcomes from such a low start
- their work and earning potential.
All we ask is for fair funding to adequately provide for every child in our schools across the country, no matter of their family circumstances, in order to reduce the cultural capacity divide and improve social mobility and social justice.
Retention, Recruitment and Resilience
As leaders in Erdington schools we have many challenges to face, one that keeps us awake at night, is staffing.
At an Erdington school in the past two years we saw a 14% staff turnover. Teaching staff left because of:
- the time and effort that teaching demands of its professionals;
- a poor work/life balance;
- moving out of the area, cheaper accommodation
- the opportunity to travel.
With tightening budgets it is difficult to see how we can attract outstanding candidates to schools in challenging areas.
When schools advertise for a Class Teacher, they are not just to employing an educator. They are Iooking for a professional who can not only deliver the national curriculum through first quality teaching, but an individual who can manage extreme behaviours from some of Birmingham’s most vulnerable children.
Head teachers will have to continue deploying a ‘natural wastage’ approach to staff turnover, whilst many of us are currently working on staffing restructures with our HR services, where redundancies will be the only option for schools.
New recruits will need to have:
- extensive knowledge of Social, Emotional and Mental Health as our children no longer reach the newly raised thresholds of Forward Thinking Birmingham.
- skills in raising attendance
- working knowledge of the community services that continue to be cut
- learn to fill in a food bank parcel request form so their pupil can eat that night
- skills in providing parenting, family support and counselling, none of which will have been covered during initial teacher training.
Parents come to school because they know that this is a place within their community where professionals will act swiftly to support them in times of need.
With school budgets being stretched year on year, staff are having to show greater resilience. In a time of austerity, we know we all have to tighten our belts; schools have a tables of six children sharing one glue stick between them has its challenges when it comes to sharing! Teachers understand that trips out each term to broaden children’s horizons, will have to be scaled back to just one trip a year. Staff also understand their salary will only increase by 1% again, following a pay freeze for three years (also causing recruitment and retention issues.)
Teachers understand all of this because they teach, not as a job, but as a passion, a calling to make a difference in children’s lives and to make a difference to society: locally, nationally and globally. But these teachers still have to pay their own mortgages; they still have to provide food for their own family; they too want to enjoy a holiday a year, paying the inflated non-term time prices from the holiday companies. Again they understand this, but now with the years of austerity rumbling on, with the increasing pressure to raise standards with children who simply drag themselves to school to avoid the depression of home life, there will be a breaking point.
I would like to make it clear that none of us have any issue with accountability and being held to account. We all acknowledge that we hold positions of great responsibility that are funded through public money and it is only right that we are held to account. The question we would like to raise is whether the existing levels of accountability within the current primary school system reflect a fair playing field. We would argue that this is not the case and that there is not enough account taken of schools facing contextual difficulties e.g. where children arrive at school way below expected started points. We are not asking for special dispensation, but rather that the measures that we are judged by reflect this and recognise not only the low starting points that many of our students come in at, but also the huge difference that we actually make to the attitudes, achievements and indeed lives of our children and their families.
We feel that the high stakes accountability with regard to attainment standards does not truly reflect the quality of teaching, impact on pupil well-being and progress that we provide within our schools. The issues we face on a daily basis which include mobility, children arriving with no English, English children arriving with very little language, children whose parents have no regard and no value for education, children and parents with mental health issues as well as the raft of severe special educational needs that come with being a truly inclusive school.
It is vital that for our children we do not narrow the curriculum and teach to the test. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the accountability system sometimes some school leaders feel that this has to happen in order for their career and the school’s reputation to survive. As leaders, we relish the challenges our children and communities present to us, demonstrated by many the heads here today having been a head at their schools for a considerable time. They have not walked away from our children! Nor are we staying for huge salaries.
We make a heartfelt plea that politicians stop using our children to measure their flawed system.
Financial effects of cuts
Our seven schools:
- Paget Primary (-£30.4k by 2020, -£81 per pupil)
- Brookvale Primary (-£64.4k by 2020, -£302 per pupil)
- Abbey RC Primary (-£56.1k by 2020, -£133 per pupil)
- Slade Primary (-£75.3k by 2020, -£199 per pupil)
- Birches Green Infants (-£13.6k by 2020, -£76 per pupil)
- Twickenham Primary (-£80.1k by 2020, -£195 per pupil)
- Osborne Primary (Possibly no deficit due to expanding to two-term entry)
- All schools will incur increased costs which the Government is not funding, eg. Teachers’ pensions
- 41 schools
- 39 schools will lose money
- Each loses an average of £223
- Will lose £49.9million per year
- Equivalent to 1,053 teachers
- 96% of schools will face cuts
- 446 schools in Birmingham
- 27 Nurseries
- 27 Special Needs Schools
- 1 Assisted Provision School
- 83 Secondary Schools
- 308 Primary Schools