Head fears funding issues could kill small schools

Staff and children at St Robert Southwell Catholic Primary School
Staff and children at St Robert Southwell Catholic Primary School

A headteacher said he feared smaller schools would die out thanks to the “crippling” financial problems they faced.

James Field, head of St Robert Southwell Catholic Primary School, in Lambs Farm Road, Horsham, has called for more money to be pumped into the country’s education budget, comparing the government’s new National Funding Formula (NFF) to “moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic”.

James Field, head of St Robert Southwell Catholic Primary School

James Field, head of St Robert Southwell Catholic Primary School

Mr Field is the latest headteacher to voice his concerns about school funding. While the NFF saw £1.3bn put into education – with £28m coming to West Sussex over the next two years – his fellow heads have said rising costs would leave schools worse off.

Mr Field said: “They keep saying there’s more money than ever going into schools but a big reason for that is there are more children than ever.”

While St Robert Southwell has been “very financially prudent” and never set a deficit budget, Mr Field said this year had used up “pretty much all our reserves to make sure that we’re financially viable”.

One of his main concerns about changes brought in by the NFF was the £40k reduction to the lump sum given to primary schools, falling from £150k to £110k.

West Sussex MPs meet Damian Hinds

West Sussex MPs meet Damian Hinds

The lump sum represented the minimum fixed costs of running a school, and Mr Field said of the reduction: “For a school like ours, it’s crippling. A lot of the small schools might die out.”

Unlike many schools, he has not had to make any redundancies, but said: “We might have to look at provision in the future, we might have to reduce hours.”

This worry about financial viability was one of the reasons behind St Robert Southwell’s decision to expand. From September, the school will be able to take in 210 children, rather than the current 180, thanks to plans to convert the library into a classroom.

But there will be no extra money to pay for new staff, with the current team having to “spread our resources a lot more thinly”. Grant money from the Diocese of Arundel & Brighton has been provided to build a new multi-use library but the school has to fund 10 per cent of the costs itself.

With the help of the school’s Friends group – who Mr Field described as “amazing” – more than £16k of the required £33k has been raised.

In addition, the school will be running fairs, the children have been coming up with their own fundraising ideas and an auction and ball will be held in September, with ex-pupils and ex-parents invited to attend.

Mr Field said: “We’re lucky in that we can expand and make changes. However, other schools are not so lucky.

“It’s sad really because the feedback we constantly get is people want a small school for their children.

“I know every single child in this school, every adult here knows every single child.

“We care for them, we know their individual needs. That’s not always the case in larger schools and that seems to be the way things are going, which is very sad. It’s sad that small schools might become a thing of the past.”

Mr Field was also keen to get the message out that children didn’t need to be Catholic to attend his school. While Catholic children would be given priority of admission, he said youngsters of all faiths – or no faith – were welcome.

To donate to the building fund, visit uk.virginmoneygiving.com and search for Friends of St Robert Southwell School.

MPs meet education secretary

Jeremy Quin and five other West Sussex MPs met Damian Hinds, Secretary of State for Education, to discuss funding concerns in the county’s schools.

The new National Funding Formula will see £28m pumped into county schools over the next two years.

While describing the money as ‘considerable’, the MPs spoke to Mr Hinds about ‘the increase in costs borne by schools’.

They also raised concerns about high needs funding and how schools could be helped to improve standards, especially at primary level.

In a statement, the MPs said: “The new formula is of net benefit to West Sussex schools.

"However we made clear to the Education Secretary that the debate on school funding is not over.

"There is more that can be done locally over the next two years to relieve pressure on schools and we will be supporting West Sussex County Council and individual schools in doing so. It is also vital that the Education Department has the resources it needs.

"Since the 1990s, spending per pupil has nearly doubled in real terms and our spending levels compare well to most EU countries – spending more than either Germany or France. However we also expect more from our pupils and teaching staff than ever before.

"We will continue to campaign to ensure that the Autumn Budget allocates the right resources to support education.”