St Helens schools at 'breaking point' says union official

Andy Howard, secretary of the St Helens branch of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said the situation is now critical for schools.
Andy Howard, secretary of the St Helens branch of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said the situation is now critical for schools.

Schools in St Helens are at “breaking point” due to inadequate funding, a teachers’ union secretary has warned.


Andy Howard, secretary of the St Helens branch of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said the situation is now “critical” for schools.

This is despite repeated claims by the government that education spending is a record levels.

Mr Howard said: “From a local and NAHT perspective, our schools are at breaking point as funding is not keeping up with the expenditure schools face with some facing deficit budgets.

“The government’s funding commitment for schools is not adequate and despite their misleading use of statistics on school funding, equates to a real-terms cut in education spending – a 25 per cent cut in education spending as a percentage of GDP in just seven years.”

Funding for schools in England is met from the dedicated schools grant, a ring-fenced grant made up of four blocks.

One of the biggest pressures on school budgets is the rising cost of providing support for children with special needs and disabilities (SEND), which is funded through the high needs block.

The government has said that core funding for schools and high needs will rise from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £43.5 billion by 2019-20.

But school leaders argue this is still not enough to meet the rising demand.

Mr Howard said the NAHT is campaigning to ensure the government is aware of the pressure on the high needs block and that the necessary funding is secured for the most vulnerable children.

The Legh Vale Primary School head teacher’s comments come as MPs prepare to debate education funding in the House of Commons tonight.

In preparation for the debate, the Local Government Association reiterated its own concerns around education funding.

“Councils continue to highlight pressures on the high needs funding block as one of the most serious financial challenges they are facing,” an LGA spokesman said.

“LGA commissioned research found that councils are facing a high needs funding shortfall of £667 million in the 2019-20 financial year and this funding gap could rise to £1.6 billion by 2021.”

The LGA also said it remains “concerned” that the introduction of the national funding formula – combined with changes to high needs funding, will “exacerbate” existing shortfalls in SEND funding.

The national funding formula, which aims to address historic disparities in funding between local areas, was initially launched in 2018-19.

A transition period of two years was put in place to allow councils to continue to allocate funding based on local formulae.

Mr Howard said the St Helens branch of the NAHT hopes to influence the implementation of the national funding formula, which is expected to be fully rolled out in 2021 following a delay.

The Department for Education said it is supporting schools and head teachers to “make the most of every pound”.

A DfE spokesman said: “St Helens is receiving an increase of 4.7 per cent per pupil for its schools in 2019-2020, compared to 2017-18 funding levels – an increase of £7.4 million when rising pupil numbers are also taken into account.

“But we do recognise the budgeting challenges schools face and that’s why we’re supporting schools and head teachers, and their local authorities, to make the most of every pound.”