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Funding shortage taking Devon schools 'back to a Victorian era'

Pupils in the county are funded £294 less than the national average

The lack of funding for Devon’s schools is ‘taking them back to a Victorian era’, it has been claimed.

Nationally schools are campaigning for better funding of education. In Devon – because of Government funding – every pupil is worth £294 less than the national average.

Recent stories in the media involved Exmouth Community College asking for a contribution of £15 for their first child, and £5 per sibling after principal Andrew Davis said in a letter to parents the financial situation is “really tough” and the contributions will help him “reinstate some of the budget lines” he has had to cut.

It was also reported that 74 people at the South Dartmoor Academy Trust are set to lose their jobs as they are required to balance their books and have exhausted other means of cutting costs such as not replacing staff who leave and reviewing all non-staff costs, a statement said.

Devon County Council’s cabinet on Wednesday agreed to write to the Secretary of State for Education calling for him to meet with headteachers to see the impact it was having on schools, with Cllr Alan Connett saying the lack of funding and resulting cuts ‘were moving schools back into a Victorian era’.

If Devon schools were funded at the national average it would mean an extra £27 million coming into their budgets every year.

Cllr Julian Brazil called for the matter to be discussed at the meeting following concerns raised by Kingsbridge Community College. A letter was sent to parents outlining reducing school budgets, rising class sizes and restricted curricular and the need to support children’s emotional health and wellbeing, without adequate resources.

He said: “The education of our children is so vital and important and we cannot put it on hold, and if we are in our own, our children need to have the best possible start. I hope the Department for Education listens as our schools are suffering.”

Cllr Rob Hannaford, leader of the Labour group, said that this was a timely and pressing concern given schools are asking parents for contributions to basic equipment and while 43 jobs are being cut at South Dartmoor College due to budget cuts.

He said: “The wider position is getting worse and I suspect it is just the tip of the iceberg. I know that some larger secondary schools are in financial difficulties. Children just get one shot but what angers me is the lack of urgency for government to sort it out. We are not about taking money from London boroughs but a general uplift in funding. We thought our position was an improvement but then we found out that we are £294 per pupil down on the national average.”

Cllr Jacqi Hodgson said that there had been an eight per cent reduction in real terms per pupil funding over the last eight years, and that while there may be more money invested in schools, there are more children attending.

Leader of the Liberal Democract group, Cllr Connett, said that it was vital there was cross chamber support to get a better deal for Devon’s children, but that schools were being forced ‘back into a Victorian era’.

He said: “Schools in Devon get £294 per pupil less than the national average funding. Schools are making cuts to protect teaching time but taking away pastoral care and counselling, some schools talking about shortening their week, and reducing the lunch breaks to save money on lunch time assistants. Governments have messed with the schools system and the chickens and coming home to roost.

“The government needs to get a firm grip on what it wants for education and to put fair funding into Devon so they get the very best and not be short changed. I have every sympathy for headteachers making difficult choice and parents who are being asked to provide for the essentials.

“This is a modern thinking country but our schools are moving back into a Victorian era, which is wrong. We as councillors have to be at the vanguard. We need to speak out loudly and do right for the kids of Devon.”

Cllr James McInnes said that he was happy to write to the Secretary of State for Education requesting that he meet with Headteachers not only in Devon, but across the whole country, concerning the current school funding crisis and the impact it was having on schools, children and families.

He said: “There needs to be £2.3b extra in mainstream education to bring to the level of five years ago and £1.3b in the high needs area. I am very happy to send a letter and hope they understand what is going on in the schools.”

He added that he was calling for case studies from schools saying why had to make teachers redundant and why cut pastoral cut so can put it to the Department for Education to strength their case.

A Department for Education spokesman had previously said: “Since 2017 the government has given every local authority in England more money for every pupil in every school – allocating the biggest increases to the schools that have been most underfunded.

“While there is more money going into our schools than ever before, we know schools face budgeting challenges, which is why we have introduced a wide range of support to help schools reduce costs and get the best value from their resources  – from a free-to-use vacancy service to cut the costs of recruiting teachers, to advisors who are providing expert help and support to individual schools that need it.

“The Education Secretary has made clear that as we approach the next spending review, he will back head teachers to have the resources they need to deliver a world class education.”

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