Schools and education is always a hot topic on the doorstep for local councillors. Whether it’s catchment areas, the 11+ or education funding, nearly everyone has a view.
That’s why so many people took notice when Balcarras headteacher Dominic Burke and the school’s chair of trustees Rosi Shepherd sent a letter to the Conservative county council leadership before Christmas.
The letter was copied to local councillors and language used was constructive, but highly critical.
The Balcarras representatives said schools would no longer be able to operate on the current level of funding. They said that the £4,800 per pupil government benchmark for funding wasn’t good enough – contrary to what we are often told by the government. And they criticised the county council’s decision to ignore local head teachers and divert general schools funding to subsidise special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision for some of the most vulnerable and neediest pupils.
That letter reinforced so many things local councillors have been hearing about the intolerable pressures on local schools funding - despite the tales we read on certain political leaflets.
After reading it, Liberal Democrats got in touch with the school. Last week, I went with county council opposition leader Paul Hodgkinson to meet the school. We wanted to find out more and learn about where things are going wrong. What we heard caused even more concern and backed up the points being made in the letter sent in December.
Feedback from across the education sector strongly suggests that state schools are suffering from a lack of focus while the government is distracted by Brexit woes.
Given the pressure being caused locally by national funding decisions, now is the time for warm words to be matched with actions.
It’s clear that the county council must listen harder to concerns from headteachers and the Gloucestershire Schools Forum.
National government - and our local MPs - must listen to our headteachers too and take the message back to Parliament. Stating a belief in well-funded schools is not the same as making it a reality.
Local parents demand better, local teachers demand better and local councillors are demanding better too.
If you work in a school and would like to talk to us about funding problems, we’d like to hear from you.
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