St Albans schools struggling to afford staff pay and SEN provision, says MP

St Albans MP Anne Main at the Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday. Picture: House of Commons.

St Albans MP Anne Main at the Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday. Picture: House of Commons. - Credit: Archant

An £8,000 bill to prune trees is just one of the outgoings cash-strapped St Albans schools are having to find money for.

The £8k bill was for Bernards Heath Junior School, one of the many schools in the city which has spoken out about funding shortages.

Links Academy, which aims to reintegrate pupils who have been excluded elsewhere back into mainstream schools, has borne the brunt of funding pupils with special educational needs (SEN).

In a debate in parliament yesterday, St Albans MP Anne Main said: “Links Academy says it is mopping up the children with additional or special needs who are being cold shouldered or refused positions elsewhere.

“I have been in contact with David Allen, headmaster of Links Academy, and he welcomes pupils with special needs, but described his despair at the rising number of SEN pupils being permanently excluded from mainstream schools.”

Schools are disincentivised from taking on SEN pupils, the debate heard, because they have to fund part of the pupil’s education, health and care plan.

Fewer staff members is contributing to the pressure on SEN provision, while having to pay experienced staff more is affecting schools more generally.

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Mrs Main said: “Teachers in my area say—this is awful, but I accept it—that when a valued, top-of-the-range headteacher or head of department goes, there can be a small, collective sigh of relief in the budget department because that means the school can take on a younger, less experienced teacher on a lower pay scale and the budget suddenly becomes a little looser.

“It is demoralising for a school not to be able to reward and keep high-value staff because it simply does not have the money to pay them.”

As part of a pay rise for teachers, which was announced by the Government earlier this year, schools will have to put forward one per cent of the rise.

The headteacher of Nicholas Breakspear School, Declan Linnane, has said this alone would cost the school £30k.

The debate also covered the problem of wages versus house prices, with Mrs Main saying: “In an area such as mine, where house prices and the cost of living are very high, wages sometimes just cannot keep up so that teachers are able to live in the constituency and work in its schools.”

The Government has this year introduced a new funding formula for schools, based on the individual needs of every school in the county.

Responding to the debate, schools minister Nick Gill said St Albans will attract gains of 2.5 per cent per pupil under the formula next year, compared with 2017-18.

He continued: “We are funding the teachers’ pay award above the one per cent schools will already have budgeted for, by providing a teachers’ pay grant worth £187 million in 2018-19 and £321 million in 2019-20.

“This funding will be over and above the funding that schools receive through the national funding formula.

“I believe the significant extra investment that we are making in our schools—both revenue and capital, and distributed more fairly through the national funding formula—will help us to achieve that.”

He added that the Government has invested an extra £1 billion in funding for children with high needs since 2013 and next year will provide local authorities in England with over £6 billion in high needs funding, which is up from just under £5 billion in 2013.

Mrs Main replied: “I have obviously not managed to convey the level of frustration my teachers have been experiencing.

“The statistics are all fabulous and wonderful, but there is a reason why I am no good at maths, because they actually do not mean a lot to me.

“To me, they mean there is a great effort on behalf of this Government to do the right thing from current under-funding, but the reality is that teachers on the ground face huge pressures, and we have got to look into this.

“All schools and all teachers should have the resources they need. I will keep pressing on this issue, because this is something that we need to take forward collaboratively, because otherwise we would be letting down the children of the future.

“So I am sorry to say that I will put my dunce’s cap on and say that I could not persuade the minister today.”