Lunch breaks are being cut short, minority subjects are being dropped and parents have even been asked to pay for basic cooking ingredients as part of attempts by schools across the country to cover for shortfalls in funding.
Analysis by the Guardian reveals that headteachers have been resorting to desperate measures to save money as budgets are squeezed – and are forced to make increasing demands, often on parents, to plug the gap.
The Latymer school in north London turning to parents for donations for the second time in a year, after an initial £70,000 raised was not enough to save subjects including PE and Latin from being scrapped for some years.
Parents of pupils at Davenant Foundation school in Loughton, Essex, being asked for £20 donations to cover the costs of “creative studies” in key stage 3 – including salt and milk for food technology lessons.
Lowercroft community school in Bury, which has a £45,000 budget shortfall, seeking to lay off lunchtime supervisors and cut breaks to end the school day 15 minutes earlier.
Parents at St Nicolas’ Church of England school in Taplow, part of Theresa May’s constituency, receiving letters asking for contributions of up to £30 a month to plug a projected £40,000 shortfall next year, or face staff redundancies.
Teachers complaining that school photocopying and printing budgets have been slashed, meaning pupils are missing out on classroom material or having to rely on battered or defaced old textbooks.
Teaching unions say the crisis is the result of years of frozen budgets, further eroded by higher pension, wages and tax costs as well as inflation, with little hope of relief if the Conservatives are re-elected.
Russell Hobby of the National Association of Head Teachers said schools throughout England were increasingly asking parents to make ends meet, and slashing staff budgets when that wasn’t enough.
“Almost every head I speak to is thinking about not replacing teachers who do leave, or is having to lay off staff within the next year or two,” said Hobby.
“I think it’s just phenomenal. The funding crisis isn’t just something that’s going to happen in 2020 – it’s happening right now.”
Liam Collins, headteacher of Uplands community college in East Sussex, said his school was hundreds of thousands of pounds worse off.
“The per-student funding is not protected. This year we received £4,664 per student, and this flat cash settlement is what we will receive for the foreseeable future. This is well below the national average, even under the new funding formula,” Collins said.
“In simple terms this is a cut of 10 teachers, fewer clubs, no pastoral support, a narrowed curriculum, no counselling for students struggling with mental health issues, crumbling buildings, no IT upgrades, no new textbooks and no school planners.”
The cuts come as the National Audit Office has calculated there will be a £3bn real-terms reduction across all schools by 2019.
In its analysis of the Conservative manifesto, the Institute for Fiscal Studies found school funding in England would fall nearly 3% by 2021 even with a promised extra £1bn a year, adjusting for inflation and a rise in student numbers.
The Conservatives have so far promised to put an extra £1bn a year into school budgets – with the cash saved by ending free school meals for infants, and some optimistic efficiency savings from bureaucracy.
Labour is offering a more generous £4.8bn injection of funds, funded by reversing cuts to corporation tax, which would see school budgets in England rising in real terms over the next five years.
Sixth-formers would miss out on the largesse, however, with the IFS calculating that “spending per student in 16-18 education would remain about 10% lower than it would be for secondary schools”, no matter who wins the coming election.
Teachers contacting the Guardian have even complained of school buildings that reek of urine because budgets cannot stretch to fixing serious plumbing problems.
Furzedown primary school in Wandsworth, London, revealed that it was asking pupils to help clean classrooms because it could not afford a new cleaner, while the headteacher’s partner was having to undertake odd jobs around the school.
Even Latymer, a selective school in leafy north London, found that raising £70,000 in donations this year after an earlier appeal to parents was not enough to stave off cuts.
“For the next academic year, we will reduce staffing and teacher allowances further. Sadly Latin, PE, technology and sociology will no longer be offered to students joining the sixth form in September 2017,” Latymer’s headteacher, Maureen Cobbett, wrote to parents.
Jo Yurky, a co-founder of the Fair Funding for All Schools campaign group, said: “Parents are keenly aware that the cuts are not a future threat but are already happening now. We are deeply unhappy about it.”