Councillor says St Helens schools in 'crisis' due to funding freezes

St Helens schools will be forced to cut teachers if more funding isnt forthcoming says St Helens Council's deputy leader
St Helens schools will be forced to cut teachers if more funding isnt forthcoming says St Helens Council's deputy leader

St Helens schools will be forced to cut teachers and increase class sizes if more funding isn’t forthcoming, the deputy leader of St Helens Council has warned.

In July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to “level up” pupil funding in English schools, pledging an additional £4.6bn per year by 2022-23.

However, a motion passed by St Helens Council this week said this was not enough to reverse the “chronic underfunding” of schools in recent years.

Labour’s Sue Murphy, cabinet member for developing young people, submitted the motion and warned that schools in St Helens are “on their knees”.

She said the borough’s schools are in “crisis” due to funding freezes and rising costs and are having to make “sacrifices” to balance the budgets.

Coun Murphy revealed 29 schools in the borough have forecast deficits for the financial year 2020-21, with two schools at risk of ending the current financial year in deficit.

She added that some schools are hoping to balance the budgets with just £2,000 to £3,000 in reserves.

“Sadly, there are schools that can barely afford books and pens and some schools are asking parents to contribute to these costs,” Coun Murphy said.

“Perhaps this government wants to resort to our children using slate again to write on.

“The reality of this situation is, our school are on their knees. Less pastoral support, less support staff, less resources, less technology, less enrichment. What comes next, less teachers?

“It is a stark fact that unless we have investment in our school budgets, we will not have enough teachers to teach. Does anybody in this chamber think class sizes of 60+ is acceptable?

“But I tell you – that is what is on the cards without investment.”

St Helens Council leader David Baines, a former primary school teacher, said he was “proud” to support the motion.

Coun Baines said he recently spoke to one school that was considering making a teacher redundant and cutting the number of Key Stage 2 classes to save money.

Coun Baines said: “Head teachers, governors and teaching staff shouldn’t be worrying about budgets.

“They shouldn’t be forced into a position where they’re having to make teaching assistants redundant, which is what some schools have now already had to do in St Helens.”

St Helens Conservatives councillor Rob Reynolds defended the government, saying the Prime Minister has already pledged to increase per pupil funding in primaries from £3,500 to £4,000.

The Rainford councillor also criticised the ruling Labour group for submitting motions around national issues which it has no control over.

Coun Reynolds said: “Month after month we get resolutions about things that Labour group have no control over.

“They don’t want to talk about things they can control. And I think we all know it’s because they’re failing, and they want to distract attention from that.

“They’re failing on the green belt, they’re failing on regenerating the town centre.

“Of course, we are happy to vote to encourage the Prime Minister to provide even more funding, but we also think this Labour group needs to get on with its day job and stop sending letters to people.”

Labour’s Robyn Hattersley, a primary school teacher who was elected to represent Thatto Heath in May, said she has seen the effects of the “dreadful Tory cuts” to the borough’s schools first-hand.

She said since 2015, schools in St Helens has lost £31.4m, an average of £211 per pupil.

“The three local authority schools in my ward have lost a significant amount since 2015,” Coun Hattersley said.

“St Austin’s have lost £112 per pupil. St John Vianney have lost £208 per pupil and Thatto Heath Primary have lost £219 per pupil.

“These cuts have been detrimental to these schools and have meant losses to staff members, out of date or low-quality resources and increased class sizes.”

Coun Hattersley urged opposition councillors to get behind the motion and “send a message” to the government.

She said: “Deprivation is a horrible issue affecting the children in our towns and schools need adequate funding to help support teachers, pupils and parents to cope with the effects of widespread austerity.

“We need to stand together and vote unanimously in favour of this motion to ensure the children in our town achieve their potential in whatever they desire.

“Let’s send a message to this Tory government and say no, no to school funding cuts.”

The motion received cross-party support and was unanimously passed following a vote.

Interim chief executive Harry Catherall will now write to the Secretary of State for Education to express the council’s concerns and to request that school funding is increased to address the long-term underfunding of schools.