Teachers volunteer for £7,000 pay cut to save colleagues’ jobs

Primary-school pupils sitting in morning assembly

School funding per pupil has fallen by 8% in real terms over the past eight years, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Photograph: Julian Claxton/Alamy

Teachers at a cash-strapped primary school have volunteered to take a £7,000-a-year pay cut to save the jobs of colleagues.

Schools across the country are so short of funds that headteachers are being forced to make drastic cutbacks. In a stark example of the funding squeeze, Furzedown primary school, in the south London borough of Wandsworth, had instigated a series of measures to balance its books and was facing the possibility of making redundancies.

But five teachers have stepped in to save their colleagues and agreed to take a salary reduction of up to £7,000 a year – enough to safeguard the jobs of two classroom assistants. Furzedown’s head, Monica Kitchlew-Wilson, said that some of the volunteers were now on 80% of their previous salary.

“Without these voluntary pay cuts we could not run the service we provide for the children and would be delivering a poorer, less balanced curriculum,” she said.

“Our children deserve better and we all strive to do what we can to keep intact the exciting learning that takes place. This is not a frivolous luxury; it is the excellent education our children deserve to have. Teaching staff are committed to keep this ideal alive and some were prepared to make the sacrifice of reducing their pay.”

Heads are in the middle of an acute funding crisis because of rising costs and falling per-pupil funding in some areas. School funding per pupil has fallen by 8% in real terms over the past eight years, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Heads have appealed to parents to pay for basic items such as pens and glue sticks. Some are closing at lunchtime on a Friday to save money.

On Monday hundreds of schoolchildren from Cambridge, along with their parents and teachers, are expected to join a march in protest at funding cuts to schools. The decision to march was taken by parents of pupils at St Matthew’s primary school after headteacher Tony Davies went public with his frustration, saying that the school was getting a £60,000 reduction in funding next year.

Davies is one of many headteachers around the UK who have signed up to the Worth Less? campaign, which last year organised a rally outside parliament that drew an unprecedented number of state school heads from around England. More recently, the group has been behind letters that thousands of headteachers round the country have been sending to parents, urging them to write to their MPs and lobby the Department for Education to improve funding for schools.

Many schools have had to reduce staffing, which means larger classes, less one-to-one and small-group support for pupils with special needs, and cuts to the curriculum.

Philip Hammond, the chancellor, did not mention school funding in his spring statement, ignoring a plea from thousands of headteachers for more investment.

In West Yorkshire, one head has in effect sacked himself to save money: Ray Henshaw, the principal of Minsthorpe community college, in Wakefield, will take early retirement next month.

The college’s chair of governors, Beverley Semper, said: “This is a selfless act on his part and has been brought on by the financial cutbacks the college has had to undertake this year … He recognised that a restructure of senior leaders was necessary, his own position being the first of these cuts.” The two vice-principals will now run the school.

Headteachers in Wakefield have warned that the government’s failure to ensure that school funding keeps pace with rising costs was leading to fewer teachers, courses and student support being cut, and cancelled trips.

Tony Davies, head of St Matthew’s primary in Cambridge
 Tony Davies, head of St Matthew’s primary in Cambridge, says he is facing a £60,000 reduction in funding next year.

“The funding challenges we face are real and made even worse by the reduction in government funding for local authorities that support young people and families within our communities,” they said in a recent statement.

Other schools are taking to social media to try to crowdfund for equipment. Lainesmead primary school in Swindon has lost £80,000 as a result of government budget cuts and has had to make several redundancies. The school has now set up a JustGiving page to try to raise funds for IT equipment. So far £710 has been donated towards the £6,000 target.

The biggest teaching union, the National Education Union, has described the situation as a “national emergency”.

According to an analysis by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), school funding needs to be increased by £5.7bn to achieve the basic expectations of a core curriculum, delivered in a safe and well maintained building, taught by a qualified teacher and backed up with pastoral, safeguarding and special educational needs support.

“It must be obvious to everyone that a funding gap of £5.7bn cannot be resolved by trying to squeeze a few more efficiencies out of a system where every cost has already been trimmed. The answer must come from the Treasury in the form of additional investment,” said Richard Sheriff, president of the ASCL.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “Since 2017 we have given every local authority more money for every pupil in every school and made funding fairer across the country.

“We know that staff costs are the single biggest item of spending in schools – which is why we supported schools with the cost of the teachers’ pay award with a new £508m teachers’ pay grant across 2018-19 and 2019-20.

“While there is more money going into our schools than ever before, we do recognise the budgeting challenges schools face. That’s why we have introduced a wide range of practical support to help schools and headteachers and their local authorities make the most of every pound on non-staff costs.

“The secretary of state has made clear that, as we approach the next spending review, he will back headteachers to have the resources they need to deliver a world-class education.”