Huntingdonshire schools feel the pinch as funding cuts threaten teachers’ jobs

Ernulf Academy headteacher Scott Preston. The school is just one Huntingdonshire school in dire financial straits as a result of countywide funding issues. Ernulf Academy headteacher Scott Preston. The school is just one Huntingdonshire school in dire financial straits as a result of countywide funding issues.

Thursday, February 13, 2014
10:25 AM

Ernulf Academy is appealing to people to sign a petition to help solve a county-wide under-funding issue, which has led to a £600,000 shortfall in its budget and the possibility of teachers losing their jobs.

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In a letter sent to parents yesterday (Tuesday), headteacher Scott Preston said he anticipated having to cut staff numbers to fill the financial black hole. Despite the pressure on finances, he told The Hunts Post the school’s curriculum would remain “largely unchanged”.

He said some of the savings would be made by not replacing staff who left the school and through voluntary redundancies. However, if its finances reached crisis point, it may have to consider compulsory redundancies.

The school is not alone. Cambridgeshire secondary schools are currently the worst funded in the country. Out of 121 English local authorities, the county sits at the bottom of the table for funding, with only £3,950 per pupil on average. Mr Preston added that Ernulf was particularly impacted by the changes as it had fewer students.

Chairman of governors at Hinchingbrooke School in Huntingdon, Paul Fenney, set up the petition, which calls on the Government to give schools “bridging funding” ahead of the introduction of a National Fair Funding Formula which has been promised from September 2015.

Mr Fenney said: “I think people need to stand up and say ‘This is not fair’. It’s been an unfair situation for a number of years. The Government has said they will introduce a fairer funding formula. If it’s going to happen, how about some bridging funding until that is introduced?”

Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly, who has been campaigning for a fairer settlement since he was first elected in 2001, said Education Minister David Laws MP had ruled out “bridging funding” but urged people to sign the petition.

“I think it’s important we keep up the pressure on the Department for Education,” he said.

For Ernulf, Mr Preston explained that if it had received the same as the national average, its income would have been about £350,000 higher. Instead, the removal of grants it had previously been eligible for and no improvement in the county’s education funding overall, meant the impact was a reduction of nearly £250,000.

While the school has managed to increase staffing per pupil and keep a balanced budget this year, next year it will have to implement major austerity measures.

He said: “We have been pushing the Government as hard as we can to bring in this fair funding formula as soon as possible. We still have to run the school and there are clearly basic costs that any school has to try and meet.

“The reality of any school is that Around 80 per cent of our budget is staff costs and to save significant amounts of money we have to look at our staffing structure.”

He explained that the amount of lessons would remain the same as staff – who often taught less than their 45 timetabled periods over a two-week schedule – would take on extra teaching rather than do one-to-one sessions and small group work.

He added: “Going forward we need to maximise the number of students we have in the school which we hope will happen, especially as we have had some of the best exam results by a long way and we are confident that these results will continue.

“The petition is a great way to show support for Ernulf and Cambridgeshire schools more generally. When I looked, there were over 3,000 signatures to prove to politicians that this is something that the community as a whole really cares about.”

Elsewhere in Huntingdonshire, other schools are feeling the pinch of funding cuts. At Hinchingbrooke School in Huntingdon, savings of up to £350,000 have to be made, said principal Andrew Goulding. About five teaching jobs could be under threat and back office jobs would go.

“We’re having to find £300,000 to £350,000 of savings,” he said. “Support staff are going through a redundancy process at the moment – that’s learning support, HR and information, advice and guidance staff. We’re having to make a number of support staff redundant in those areas.”

Mr Goulding, who could not say how many support staff redundancies there would be, said cuts had already been made on spending on buildings and ­refurbishment, while efforts had also been made to increase revenue.

Mr Goulding said: “The next stage is looking to reduce the curriculum and that’s not something any school wants to do.

“We’re having to now cut back on the curriculum. We’ve got no choice.”

A-levels in textiles and law would no longer be available, added Mr Goulding.

St Peter’s headteacher Val Ford said the Huntingdon school had seen a reduction in deprivation funding but was not expecting to have to cut jobs.

Tracy Roden, St Ivo’s director of business and resources, said its budget for 2014/15 was yet to be agreed. No comment was received from Abbey College in Ramsey or Sawtry Community College.

INFORMATION: To sign the petition, visit http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/58898.

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