The funding crisis for Peterborough schools has become so severe that staff are having to replace laptop keys with pieces of lego.
Last week the Peterborough Telegraph revealed the city’s education chief is predicting that schools will soon be forced to close some days as they struggle to balance the books.
Jonathan Lewis, service director for education at Peterborough City Council, said the situation is “as bad as I’ve ever seen it,” and that the authority will write to Education Secretary Damian Hinds asking for more funding.
This week the PT spoke to two school headteachers who have had to make cutbacks which they say are impacting the support they can offer their pupils.
This includes making teaching assistants redundant, not replacing outdated equipment and relying on parents to pay for items or extra-curricular activities.
Mark Cooper, headteacher at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Primary School, said the one form entry school in Bretton had seen a funding increase of 0.5 per cent in the past two years, while at the same time other costs have risen much more, including teachers’ salaries.
“The funding is not keeping up. We’ve halved our reserves in the last two years,” he said.
Money meant to be set aside for IT or the maintenance of school buildings is instead being used to balance the books.
“Our boiler broke about 18 months ago during the Beast from the East and we had to close the school. Our diocese very kindly ended up paying for the boiler because we did not have money to do it,” he added.
“The kitchen floor needed work and the diocese had to pay for that.
“There are teacher laptops where we have got pieces of Lego Blu Tacked where keys have come off.
“We used to have a play therapist to work with children with a high level of anxiety. They worked with a YMCA charity support worker.
“It’s been a really difficult decision to take but we can’t fund that after this year. For those eight really needy children, that weekly outlet they had won’t be there.
“That was such a difficult decision to make.”
Becky Marrs, headteacher at Newborough C of E Primary School, can empathise having had to reduce the number of teaching assistants to avoid going into deficit.
This year the budget for the curriculum, e.g. reading books, is around £7,000. She said: “We are very stretched.
“Our income has not increased but costs have increased. We are getting towards being in deficit.
“It’s only because we made staff reductions in the last academic year that meant we would not be in deficit this year.
“But in three years we will be in deficit. Everything is going up but the money coming in is not reflecting that.”
The impact can be seen in not being able to invest in staff development, as well as less money to support children who need early intervention to catch up with their peers.
“We struggle to have enough support for that intervention which will have a knock-on effect,” Ms Marrs added.
“I would like to buy more resources but don’t have the money to do that.”
Parents pitch in
Schools across the country are increasingly relying on parents to fundraise to help with their costs or extra-curricular activities, and the same is true in Peterborough.
Mr Cooper outlined the efforts being provided by the Friends of Sacred Heart.
He said: “We have about six to seven hardworking parents doing a lot for our school. They’ve spent about £1,500 on reading books for the school library, and about £1,000 for school trips.
“We’re now asking if they can provide funding for backing paper.”
It is a similar story at Newborough Primary where parents are continuing to fundraise to make sure the children get to experience the most during their time at school.
“This includes bringing in an author to talk or taking pupils on a great day out to the theatre.
Annette Hall, whose daughter Grace is in Year 4, is the treasurer at Friends of Newborough School.
She said: “The kids really enjoy the theatre. Before, the school used to pay for it, but now they said there’s no longer any money for it.
“Everything I do is for the children of the school. If they really enjoy something I really want them to have it.”
Last week, the PT revealed that Peterborough’s schools have seen their budgets reduce in real terms by 10 per cent on top of increasing pressures such as rising pupil numbers.
The plea to the Government for more money comes after the council wrote to all headteachers asking how funding cuts have impacted their schools. Examples given included using apprentices to cover roles, reducing the number of teaching assistants, cutting subjects from the curriculum, ending counselling and heads having to teach classes.
Mr Lewis told the PT last week: “We are a London borough without the same funding. They are getting £2-3,000 extra funding per person. We are asking to be funded appropriately.
“Class sizes are getting bigger and we’re asking teachers to do more, which leads to challenges in recruitment and retention.
“We’re also having to make really difficult decisions with special educational needs.
“This is starting to impact every school in Peterborough.”
One headteacher, Bryan Erwin from Ken Stimpson Community School, said schools have become “the fourth emergency service” as funding cuts elsewhere have left teachers acting as carers.
Last week the Department for Education said funding for schools in Peterborough has increased by 2.3 per cent per pupil this year.
A spokesperson added: “We have introduced a wide range of support to help schools reduce costs and get the best value from their resources – from a free-to-use vacancy service to cut the costs of recruiting teachers, to advisors who are providing expert help and support to individual schools that need it.”