School funding crisis: Crawley head tells of cuts

Michael Ferry, head of St Wilfrid's School, Crawley
Michael Ferry, head of St Wilfrid's School, Crawley

A Crawley headteacher has told how school funding cuts have forced him to reduce staff numbers and cut GCSE and A-level courses.

Michael Ferry, head of St Wilfrid’s Catholic school in Crawley, spoke out after warnings over the effects of Government cash cuts went out last week to parents of children throughout West Sussex.

Mr Ferry said: “West Sussex continues to be one of the lowest funded Local Authorities for Education.

“Despite the transition towards a National Funding Formula, the local authority remains the sixth worst funded local authority for education in England (out of 151 LAs).

“As such, the increases we have seen in cash terms per student have been heavily outweighed by the increases in costs which we face.

“Since April 2016, I have made significant savings to the tune of £500k by not replacing staff who have left. The only reason I have done this is to be able to set a balanced budget year on year.

“The impact of this is clearly seen by staff, both teaching and non-teaching, having to do more with less.

“Some option subjects at GCSE and A-level have been removed from the curriculum to save money. For example, although students complete a course of Food Technology in Key Stage 3, as I no longer have a dedicated Food Technology teacher nor a technician to support the subject, it is no longer in the curriculum as a GCSE or A-level choice.

“At the same time, schools are being required to do more in terms of wrap around support for children due to the impact of more general cuts across the support services as a whole.

“We are being asked to be teacher, social worker, mentor, police officer, counsellor, etc.

“At the same time, the school is expected to show excellent exam results and we do, our results are very impressive and we have received accolades from the LA and Ofsted, but there are no guarantees that we can continue in this way, year after year, in the current funding climate.

“The pressure on the system, the pressure on staff, is rising. We need the Secretary of State to recognise what over 7,000 headteachers are saying across 64 local authorities, that we are in a state of crisis.

“We recognise that there is no bottomless pit of money but we are desperate to be part of the solution, do not ignore us, include us but above all else listen to us and recognise that we know what we are talking about.

“This current situation is not sustainable and if it is not rectified then we will be judged to have failed the children of this country.”

Mr Ferry’s comments follow those of Horsham headteacher Alex Bird - head of St Mary’s CE Primary School, Horsham - who spoke out on Friday about the funding crisis.

He described how he has had to have ‘dishonourable conversations’ with staff over pay cuts and had to rely on ‘incredibly hard working teachers working ‘until silly o’clock.’

Parents had also rallied, he said, to help buy books, pay for IT upgrades and fund stationery, glue sticks, string, sellotape, whiteboards - and more.

In letters that went out last week to parents of all schoolchildren in the county - from the West Sussex campaign group WorthLess? - parents were warned: “Schools are still not being provided with adequate funding and resource to deliver the level of provision and support that is expected and that our families and children deserve.”

The heads say that school budgets have been cut by between eight and 20 per cent since 2010 and that they are ‘dismayed’ that previous calls for action have been ignored.