None of the gleeful children playing in the playground at St. Matthew’s Primary School in Cambridge are aware that their friendly headteacher, Tony Davies, is seething with anger in his office upstairs. The reason for his outrage is the news that his school’s budget will be cut by £60,000 next year. Despite his best efforts to be cost-effective, Davies is aware that the quality of education offered to students in his large inner-city state school will suffer.
"The impact of the budget cuts on the children that we teach makes me furious," Davies said. "It is the support for vulnerable children and those who struggle to learn that is usually the first to be cut when budget reductions take place. We have already made all the necessary efficiency reductions. Therefore, any future cuts will be to core services and offerings which will have dire consequences for the education we provide. This is a typical situation for schools across the country."
Davies is one of over 7,000 headteachers belonging to the WorthLess? campaign group. He recently sent a letter to parents warning them of the significant funding shortfall that schools face, requesting them to appeal to their local MP and the Department for Education (DfE). Despite the fact that his group represents headteachers from across 64 local authorities, the education secretary, Damian Hinds, has reportedly declined to meet with them on two separate occasions. Headteachers were informed that the diaries of education ministers were prioritized according to their designation.
A DfE spokeswoman asserted that the education secretary has been able to secure an additional £400 million in capital funding for schools from the Treasury in the last year. She added that school funding in England would increase from nearly £41 billion in 2017-18 to £43.5 billion by 2019-20. However, these reassurances do not placate Davies, who is infuriated that the government fails to take responsibility for the cuts. The education minister’s declarations that education funding has increased are not valid since their spending has not kept up with inflation, Davies claims.
WorthLess? has calculated that real-term school budgets have fallen by 8% since 2010. Davies, who has been a teacher for 25 years and a headteacher for 15 years, is worried about how the cost cuts will impact staff morale, workloads, and retention. "This situation is the worst it’s ever been," he says. Last week, Labour MP Jess Phillips tweeted that her son’s school planned to close earlier on Fridays to save money. About 25 to 30 schools across the country have announced similar measures since 2017.
Facing the need to save money, Davies is even considering closing his students’ school down early. "It’s an idea that we’ve considered. We know that schools in Cambridge have done it," he said. However, Davies perceives it as the final option, adding: "I am aware that this will impact working parents. We don’t want to do this, and we won’t be doing this soon. However, there comes a point where you have no other option left."
Davies voiced his discontent with the government’s shortsighted plan for the nation’s future. He highlighted that while the issue of knife crime is frequently discussed, it is simply a surface-level symptom of a more profound and extensive problem. The reality is that we are stripping young people of their potential and aspirations by decreasing accessibility to essential services, and marking their schools and them as individuals as failures.
This harmful situation has widespread and harmful effects, leaving a lasting impact on young people that can have cumulative and devastating consequences. It is unsurprising that young people may feel frustrated, disconnected, and alone in such an environment.