Fears over the impact of primary school budget cuts – estimated to add up to almost £450,000 over five years in just one part of Barnsley – have led to a new initiative to gather evidence which could be used to lobby the Government for change in its funding policy.
It is estimated by the National Education Union that 85 per cent of primary schools nationally will see their budgets cut in real terms between 2015 and 2020 and have made financial projections for each one.
Coun Dave Griffin, who represents the Penistone West ward in Barnsley, has discovered that each of the nine primaries in the so-called ‘Penistone pyramid’ which feeds Penistone Grammar School will all lose out, with the biggest single loss at Penistone St John’s infant and junior school, where the NEU believe ‘lost’ income will total more than £152,000.
Other big losers include Thurlstone primary school – which holds the prestigious ‘outstanding’ ranking from Ofsted – expected to be £67,414 down and Hoylandswaine primary school, where the real-terms loss is expected to top £60,000.
Penistone Grammar School had been in financial difficulty for several years, despite a strong performance on academic results, which left it in a position of racking up losses of £1m a year, despite having pared back many elements of its work which other secondary schools still enjoyed.
That situation has been alleviated to some extent by a change to the way secondary schools are financed nationally and Coun Griffin, aided by NEU official Pete Bevis, is now working to try to establish the full effect of those cuts on the education primary schools in his district are able to offer pupils.
It is hoped he can compile those findings and pass them to Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Angela Smith, in the hope she can use them as evidence to lobby for change at Government level.
Coun Griffin said: “It is remarkable what the heads and teachers are achieving with children when you see the scale of the cuts and how innovative they must be to deal with that and achieve really good results.”
He is now to write to all head teachers in the area, inviting them to provide more details of the financial circumstances their schools face and the impact they have on how they are able to provide an education for children.
The information he compiles will be treated on a confidential basis, but is expected to provide the basis of an argument that current funding is leaving tomorrow’s generation at an unfair advantage.
“I intend to write to primary school heads in the Penistone pyramid and ask what they feel about their situation, how they manage it and how we can combine to help them – to ask what we can do?
“This will be an anonymous survey. I want to get a picture and start a conversation with the heads to ask how they are coping.”
Not all schools in Barnsley will be affected by the current funding formula, with Cudworth Churchfields primary among those not expected to lose money, but a short distance away, Shafton primary academy is expected to lose more than £67,000 and Wombwell Park Street £47,149.
Mr Bevis said it was anticipated that in some cases parents could be invited to make ‘voluntary’ contributions in areas such as music lessons, where they would feel obliged to pay, and that teacher numbers would be affected.
If that was not through direct redundancies, it could happen when staff left through retirement or promotion, with teachers being replaced by less qualified staff who were cheaper to employ, to make budgets stretch.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that only seven in ten pupils in Barnsley are attending schools ranked ‘good’ or above by Oftsted.
Barnsley Council has a target of pushing that up to nine out of ten by 2020, but with 20 per cent of schools not due to be inspected in the next two years, it is accepted that will be challenging to achieve.