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Heads warn of teacher cuts as Covid creates financial crisis in Birmingham schools

Desperate Birmingham headteachers say they could be forced to cut teaching stuff as they struggle to save money.

Nearly half of schools went over budget in the last academic year, while six in ten expect to go over budget this year, a survey found.

It’s partly a result of the Covid crisis, which has heaped additional costs on schools. But a report by the National Audit Office, the official national watchdog for Government spending, also warned that funding for Birmingham schools has been cut.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson speaks about low vaccination rates in Birmingham

The survey, conducted by Birmingham MP Jack Dromey, covered secondary schools, primary schools and nurseries in his Erdington constituency.

Castle Vale Nursery headteacher Sally Leese said some nursery schools could be forced to close entirely. She said: “Early years has been woefully underfunded for years and this is starting to see nursery schools closing. COVID costs have just been the final nail in the coffin for many.”

Of the schools surveyed, 46.7% of schools said their budget for the 2020-2021 year was in deficit, meaning that they spent more than the income they received, and 60% expected to set a deficit budget in 2021/2022.

In an attempt to balance the books, eight out of ten schools said they were considering cutting the number of teaching staff. Eight out of ten said they were also considering reducing the number of non-classroom support staff, while seven out of ten said they would consider reducing investment in equipment for the school.

Schools said they had incurred thousands of pounds in extra costs due to Covid, with money spent on cleaning supplies, additional staffing costs, protective equipment, providing online learning and more. At the same time, there was a drop in the additional income many schools have come to rely on, such as donations.

The Government did provide extra funding for schools – but 75% of the schools that received additional funding, three quarters, said it came to less than half of the extra costs that they incurred.

One of the problems facing schools is that they are undersubscribed, which reduces their funding. Eight out of ten said they had empty places.

At the same time, Government funding per pupil has been cut for Birmingham schools. While funding actually increased slightly nationwide, Ministers have changed the way it is distributed, which means schools in some part of the country faced a cut.

This was revealed in a report by the National Audit Office (NAO). Traditionally, less wealthy parts of the country, including much of Birmingham, received more money than richer areas. The NAO said the Government had cut funding for poorer areas and increased it for richer areas.

It said: “Under the national funding formula, more deprived local areas receive more per-pupil funding than less deprived areas as funding is linked to need, but the difference has decreased.

“Most London boroughs and cities with relatively high levels of deprivation, such as Nottingham and Birmingham, saw real-terms decreases in per-pupil funding allocations between 2017-18 and 2020-21.”

It added: “On average, local authorities with relatively low levels of deprivation in the South West, the East Midlands and the South East received real-terms increases of around 1% or more in their per-pupil funding allocations.”

Mr Dromey said: “This survey highlights the serious consequences a decade of underinvestment in our educational system is having on the education of our children and young people.

“Even before the pandemic, rising levels of child poverty meant that annual improvements in pupil outcomes had started to recede, and the narrowing of the attainment gap between less and more privileged students had stopped, and possibly even gone into reverse. The COVID-19 crisis has compounded the sense of urgency.

“Urgent action is required, therefore. Yet in spite of all the rhetoric, the Government is failing to back their promise to ‘level up’ education with the action needed to ensure its realisation, leaving schools without the funding and resources they so desperately need.”

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