Diary of a Sheffield headteacher: ‘I was forced to get rid of six staff members in order to save £125k due to funding cuts’

A Sheffield headteacher reveals how he was forced to get rid of six staff members in order to save £125,000 during a week-long diary series detailing the true impact of school funding cuts in England. Alana Roberts reports

Wednesday, 27th November 2019, 4:42 pm
Updated Wednesday, 4th December 2019, 2:41 pm
Watercliffe Meadow Headteacher Ian Read

School budgets have been slashed by around eight per cent since 2010 and the years of austerity coupled with other factors such as growing numbers of pupils, education reforms, increasingly complex special needs requirements and additional costs burdens have pushed schools into a funding crisis.

In an announcement earlier this year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged a multi-billion pound funding boosts for schools across the country over the next three years – a plan which would see a rise of £2.6bn in 2020, then £4.8bn the following year, and £7.1bn the year after.

However, critics say this will still leave a shortfall of £2.5bn in the coming year.

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Watercliffe Meadow School at Shirecliffe

Now, with a general election looming, the future still appears uncertain.

Under the National Funding Formula – NFF – Sheffield did not receive a fair share of education funding in 2018/19 when compared to other core cities such as Manchester or Nottingham.

The Star and Sheffield Telegraph launched a campaign, which was backed by over 8,000 people, calling on the government to redress the funding situation and provide fair funding for Sheffield schools.

Recent analysis by the School Cuts campaign has since revealed that over 80 per cent of schools in the city will be worse off next year than they were in 2015.

Watercliffe Meadow School at Shirecliffe

As part of a week-long series, The Star is delving into school life at Watercliffe Meadow Primary School, in Shirecliffe, through the eyes of headteacher Ian Read.

Mr Read was forced to get rid of six members of staff earlier this year as the school simply couldn't afford to keep them on.

He orchestrated a group of headteachers and school leaders who marched on Parliament and lobby MPs on issues around school funding.

In a diary, he has detailed the devastating impact funding cuts had on his already over-stretched team during just one week in November when four staff called in sick.

Watercliffe Meadow School at Shirecliffe

Monday

Today started with four staff phoning in sick. They have a flu bug which is certainly doing the rounds with our children at the moment and having a devastating effect on our attendance. I am out of school today so that was left to my deputy to sort, which she did very capably but anyone working in school will appreciate the stress of covering staff when you have no staff to cover and can’t afford to be racking up supply staff bills.

Let me put these first sentences into context for you. I am headteacher at Watercliffe Meadow Primary School in the North East of Sheffield. In this part of Sheffield our schools are faced with many social challenges. Just over half of our pupils receive free school meals and a quarter of them have some level of special educational needs. We work closely with our families and we know that they want the best for their children but for many of them, life is hard, which means working in a school like ours, for my staff, it’s hard work.

Every day my staff go that extra mile to make a difference for our children and families and in April this year that job got even harder.

Watercliffe Meadow School at Shirecliffe

We have always managed our budget well and spend what comes in each year on the children who are in school that year, ending up most years with close to a ‘balanced in year budget’ while maintaining a relatively healthy ‘carry-forward’. That was wiped out in April when we had to save £125,000 and ended up making six staff redundant – six good staff, all of who were doing a great job. From a workforce of 63 full time equivalent staff, that meant losing 10 per cent of staff.

This is a direct result of the effective cuts to education funding since 2010. I can’t begin to tell you the devastating impact having to lose good people who you don’t want to lose and don’t want to leave has on a workforce. Anyone who has been through it as a leader or as someone affected will have a sense of what that is like. It is a demoralising process and the job of everyone who was left got immediately harder.

Back to the start of the day, I am out today because I am earning money for school. It is a huge part of what my job has become. In order to keep the school running and be able to do all the things we believe in for our children and families, I have to bring in more money for school. Some of this I do as paid work for the Local Authority and some through writing funding bids that address an area that we want to develop or maintain.

There are some good things about this work and what it has brought into school but in essence, it means I am trying to do more than I’ve ever done, I’m out of school more than I’d like to be and as a result of that leaders back at school have had to step up in order to soak up the pressure.

We covered our classes today but not in the way that we would have wanted to and at the expense of children who would normally get extra support losing out. We avoided supply costs today but we are only on Monday and at least two of the staff are likely to be off for most of the week.

The impact of cuts is felt every day but especially on days when anything else challenges our capacity.

To read Tuesday’s entry click here or for Wednesday click here.