Education funding crisis hits St Albans school

Beaumont School

Beaumont School - Credit: Archant

The education funding crisis continues to bite in St Albans and Harpenden, with a secondary school forced to ask parents for help in sourcing additional income streams.

In a letter to parents, Beaumont School in Oakwood Drive, St Albans, has outlined its concerns following the government’s failure to cover substantial increases in national insurance and pension contributions.

The Herts Advertiser, which supports our district’s state-maintained schools’ bid for sufficient and sustainable funding from the government, has recently highlighted their plight.

In April, Nicholas Breakspear Catholic School in Colney Heath Lane announced job cuts in order to balance the budget for the 2015-16 academic year.

And last month, Alan Gray, head of Sandringham School and chair of the Herts Schools Forum, warned that “school after school” in the county had voiced fears about an inability to set a balanced budget for the next academic year, with budget deficit predictions of between £200k and £400k.

He said: “I know that at Sandringham, where our financial measures are very robust, we are currently predicting a £200k deficit between revenue funding and expenditure.”

Beaumont’s letter said that state-maintained schools were “facing serious financial circumstances over the course of the next two to three years.

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“At Beaumont School, where our finances are managed prudently and conservatively, we predict a deficit of approximately £200,000 between revenue funding and expenditure in the next academic year.

“This figure takes into account efficiencies that have already been made in an attempt to address the worsening financial situation.

“The school will be relying on reserves built up over a number of years to ease the impact of the reduced income.”

Beaumont’s funding, which is paid on a per-pupil basis, will remain at its current level for the foreseeable future, which means it will not increase with inflation.

In addition, the cost of running the school will rise as a result of factors beyond Beaumont’s control – increases in national insurance and pension contributions.

The School Teachers’ Review Body has also recommended a minimum one per cent rise in teacher salaries, again without any additional funding being offered by central government to cover that increase.

Beaumont, rated outstanding by Ofsted, said that it was seeking help from the school community “in sourcing and accessing additional income streams.

“This could be through personal donations, but may also involve applications to charitable foundations and other grant-awarding bodies for funding for specific areas of the school’s work.

“The school itself is already active in applying for grants, but we would appreciate any and all assistance in increasing our access to such additional funding.”

Head teacher Elizabeth Hitch and chair of governors Alex Hall said that their message to the government was that it must treat children’s education as a priority, and ensure that its provision did not become financially unsustainable.

In Harpenden, Alan Henshall and Claire Robins, head teachers of Roundwood Park and Sir John Lawes Schools respectively, said: “Like many of our colleagues in St Albans and Harpenden, over the next few years we will be trying to do more, such as meet increased pension contributions, inflation rises, national pay settlements and increased national insurance costs, with the same amount of money.

“We are all working hard to ensure that this impacts as little as possible on the high standards of education we pride ourselves on delivering to our students but things are undoubtedly going to be difficult.”

School heads to lobby MPs

Verulam School headmaster Paul Ramsey will join fellow school leaders in a special delegation to Westminster next Wednesday, July 1, to lobby local politicians for additional money.

Paul said MPs would be told: “We can’t squeeze our schools any more.”

And yesterday, Sandringham head Alan Gray chaired the Herts Schools Forum which focused on funding problems across the county.

Alan said: “We have had a ‘flat-cash’ settlement for the past two years which is not commonly known or broadcast by the government. This has resulted in schools already making cuts throughout this period, despite having to deliver on national teacher and support staff pay rises and changes to employer pension contributions.”

St Albans MP Anne Main said she was taking the issue “very seriously” and would listen to headteachers’ concerns, including about sixth-form funding and the wider financial pressures they face.

She added: “I will ensure their concerns are raised at the very highest level, and look forward to an open and honest dialogue about the best way forward for our local schools.”

Hertsmere’s new MP, Oliver Dowden, who lives in St Albans, added: “I will continue to make the case for any additional funding that schools need.”