I’ve written to the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds MP, to ask whether he will agree to meet a delegation of head teachers from schools in my Brighton Pavilion constituency.
As an MP I’ve repeatedly called on the Government to properly invest in young people, and to stop the years of under-funding our schools have faced. Despite very vocal and innovative campaigns from amazing groups like Save Our Schools, and evidence about the real-term budget cuts, the Government has doggedly dug in its heels, and failed to fully acknowledge the scale of the funding crisis in our schools.
I was prompted to go back to the Minister after hearing about many local primary schools losing vital support staff because they do not have the money to keep them on. I have had some truly heart-breaking messages from local heads about the difficult decisions they are being forced to make, and the impact this is having on their ability to support pupils. The message has been clear; heads are simply saying “I can’t cut any more”.
Special needs education (SEND) has been particularly hard hit. In my surgeries, and in the correspondence I receive, I hear from parents about the delays they are having getting an education, health and care plan (EHCP) in place for their child, or other problems, such as their child not being in school because of the complex needs they have – and the subsequent struggle they have accessing suitable places, or support.
I want the Minister to hear directly from heads in my constituency about the impact cuts are having on them, their teaching and support staff, and pupils. Losing staff and not halting the damage caused by cuts risks failing a whole generation of pupils – with successful literacy schemes like Every Child a Reader (ECaR) no longer being sustainable, with SEND in crisis, I hope that the Minister agrees and acts.
I will also be using the opportunity at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday to raise school funding with Theresa May.
Letter to SoS for Education:
I am extremely concerned about schools in my constituency and the financial pressures they face.
I’m writing to ask whether you would agree to meet with a delegation of head teachers from schools in Brighton Pavilion to discuss the situation in person, and to hear directly from them about the impact of the funding crisis on their ability to support pupils – including those with complex needs.
In particular, I have concerns about special needs education (SEND) support. I am aware of the Government’s announcement in December of some additional funding for SEND. However, the scale of the crisis in schools, coupled with delays putting in place education, health and care plans (EHCPs) and pressures on local authority budgets, means that the measures announced do not go far enough towards rectifying the damage caused by years of cuts and under-funding over time.
I’m also extremely concerned about the successful Every Child a Reader (ECaR) scheme is at risk of collapsing in the city because it is no longer financially viable. An ECaR teacher from my constituency recently attended an event at the House of Lords to celebrate the success of the scheme and the publication of research about its impact nationally. Yet the same teacher can no longer be funded, and their school will no longer run the scheme because they simply cannot afford to do so.
I keep in regular contact with local schools, and hugely value the work staff do in difficult circumstances. In addition to the impact funding decisions are having on staffing levels and pupil support, I am also worried about the wellbeing of teaching staff and Heads, who have told me that they are having sleepless nights, and feeling extremely anxious about the agonising decisions they are being forced to make. I’ve been told that:
- “We have less support staff than we need to run the school effectively and give the children the support they need.”
- “We will have to drop our counsellor service.”
- “I am having sleepless nights trying to work out how to make the budget work but also because of the impact and possible change to the school that will have to take place.”
- “We restructured two years ago to plug a shortfall of around £150k and now ONLY employ support staff to work 1:1 with our most needy children, all of whom have EHCPs. We have no more general teaching assistants to run interventions such as Every Child a Reader and Numbers Count, nor can we even support children who are classed as SEN Support in the general classroom. This IS (and I can demonstrate it) having a devastating impact on my data and the progress children make.”
- “We had ECAR until last year. It is a role we had to end because we cannot afford it. It was a very effective programme.”
- “We will also not be renewing contracts of our 4 support staff (Teaching Assistants) who have been on temporary contracts.”
- “We used to run Every Child and Reader and Numbers Count (the mathematical equivalent) and found both initiatives to be very positive and successful. We simply do not have the funding to run anything like this any longer.”
- “We have already closed our nursery, reduced staffing through redundancies and not replacing those who have moved on to save money. The support we have for children with special needs is now at a basic level particularly for those who struggle socially and emotionally.”
- “We will also have to reduce the support we get from Learning Support Service for pupils that are dyslexic and remove the support from EMAS for our pupils with English as and additional language.”
These comments from Heads clearly highlight the pressures they face, and I hope that you will agree to a meeting with them to discuss their concerns in person. In the meantime, I would urge you to lobby the Treasury ahead of the next spending review. The funding crisis in education needs to be properly addressed as a matter of priority, and failing to do so risks jeopardising educational standards, and the prospects of young people as a result.