Forest School head resigns over ‘bleak’ funding cuts

Credit: This story was first seen on TES

A headteacher has resigned over the ‘bleak’ funding cuts hitting her school, which she says have left staff riven by ‘distrust and suspicion’, TES reports.

Mary Sandell announced in a letter to parents and staff that she was leaving the independent Forest School in Wokingham, Berkshire, at the end of this academic year, after nearly 30 years in teaching.

The letter, sent yesterday, refers to ‘the high levels of stress involved in running a school in today’s economic climate, with not always enough understanding and support from within’.

It adds: ‘The situation with regard to schools funding, both nationally and locally, is bleak; in common with other headteachers, I did not enter the teaching profession to make cuts that narrow the curriculum, or to reduce the number of teachers and increase class sizes, and yet my hand has been forced, and I see no immediate easing of the situation.

‘In addition, there is an acute teacher shortage, which is really beginning to bite. Consequently, I feel unable to deliver the quality of education the boys at the Forest so clearly deserve.’

The problems are not unique to her school, Ms Sandell points out in the letter. It comes as schools are facing eight per cent real-terms funding cuts, according to the National Audit Office. The government is proposing to introduce a national funding formula from 2018-19, which will involve some schools – such as those in urban areas – losing out.

Speaking to TES this morning, Ms Sandell stressed her sadness at leaving the profession and said that, although she was nearly 60, she had always planned to work at least another five years beyond retirement age.

“It’s a hard job at the best of times,” she said. “But since there’s been less money, everything has got much harder.”

The most difficult aspect of the funding cuts had been the impact on staff morale, she said: “The whole working environment changes. There’s distrust and suspicion among teachers, because obviously they don’t want their own budget to be cut.”

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This was counterproductive, because “every school needs to have everyone pulling in the same direction”, she added.

The Forest School has been forced to drop several AS-level subjects from September, including further maths and drama, in order to save money, she said. Last year, it had to drop food technology at GCSE level. A staff restructuring took out a ‘layer’ of leadership spending and led to a redundancy, and staff have not being replaced after leaving.

Local union representatives had estimated that the school would be £299 worse off per child per year under the funding changes, Ms Sandell added.

A Department for Education spokesman said Wokingham would benefit under the new funding formula to the tune of 2.1%.

He added: “School funding is at its highest level on record, at more than £40 billion in 2016-17. But the system for distributing that funding across the country is unfair, opaque and outdated. We are going to end the historic post code lottery in school funding and under the proposed national schools funding formula, more than half of England’s schools will receive a cash boost.

“We are consulting on the factors that will make up the formula and we know that it is important that we get this right so that every pound of the investment we make in education has the greatest impact. The consultation will run until 22 March 2017, and we are keen to hear from as many schools, governors, local authorities and parents as possible.”