Reduced budgets have already had devastating consequences in East Sussex, says Liam Collins. “If there are more things that we can do to save, then it is the equivalent of deckchair moving on the Titanic,” he says

The government’s decision to protect school funding only in flat cash terms per pupil leaves schools facing a real-term cut of £3 billion by 2020, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

However in East Sussex funding is already significantly below the national average and increasing costs will have devastating consequences.

Over the past five years we have faced significant and unfunded increases in costs, including the apprenticeship levy, abolition of the Education Services Grant and 80 per cent reductions to the capital funding for maintaining school buildings. And that’s not to mention increases in national insurance and pensions.

It is impossible to do anything, bar lose staff

I have already had difficult conversations with families about the decisions we are having to make about their child’s future. Some of these children have complex needs, but we face withdrawing all but basic statutory provision to make ends meet.

We have already reduced staffing by nine teachers over the past four years. We’ve removed a pastoral layer. We have a very efficient timetable, with little spare capacity. Everyone teaches more, including myself.

The education department recommends cutting down on unnecessary services. That’s done. Get a good business manager. Also done. Make good use of benchmarking information to find savings. Done. Make use of bulk-buy arrangements with other schools. Done, done, done.

We’ve driven down our expenses. I don’t claim anymore for travel to meetings, even though fuel prices have increased.

Here are some things I couldn’t avoid: the costs of new GCSEs, new A-levels, training staff in e-safety and safeguarding. These have all been imposed. And we had to buy-in provision.

From this point forward I can only see the cuts affecting the education of young people. It will impact our ability to keep young people safe and to maintain outcomes.

If there are more things that we can do to save, then it is the equivalent of deckchair moving on the Titanic. Staffing makes up 80 per cent of a school’s budget. The cost increases make it virtually impossible to do anything, bar lose staff.

This is not scaremongering. By 2019-20 we will have £69,350.56 less, just because income has not kept up with inflation. That equates to two teachers. Employer pension contributions, national insurance and an estimated 1 per cent pay rise each year mean that by 2019-20 I will have £118,000 less to spend on students. Three further teachers. Add to that the apprenticeship levy and the living wage, and that’s another £168,000 less.

We are now at the cost of ten teachers.

And, as this carries on, we must complete changes to GCSEs and A-levels without any money to buy resources or to train staff.

It is a false economy to compromise the education of a generation to secure a political or financial agenda

There has simply been no attempt to benchmark the cost of the curriculum that the government is demanding and that parents want – and which is needed for pupils to have a full educational experience.

Let us do the sums: 150 students require five forms of entry. For three year groups, just teaching them in the traditional one-hour lessons, that is 375 hours of teaching per week. This equates to 16 teachers required to teach that curriculum (each teaching 23 hours a week). If they were all NQTs, that equates to £360,000.

For experienced teachers that are all top of scale that equates to £620,000 (and that’s just salary, forget other costs).

That is a simple model, but one that can easily be calculated down to each pupil. This gives us a starting point of £1,378 per pupil for a key stage 3 curriculum. Yes, it is a blunt tool, but it allows for clear comparisons and discussions about how to be as efficient as possible.

We all appreciate the responsibility to secure the country’s long-term prosperity, but it is a false economy to compromise the education of a generation to secure a political or financial agenda over the next four years. Do that and we will all reap the outcomes for generations.


Liam Collins is Headteacher of Uplands community college

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  1. Greg Coleman

    A point well made Liam.

    You are doubtless aware that you may also have very few feeder primary schools left within the next four years and therefore your pupil roll may drop, adding to your financial problems. I work as Business Manager for two of them. Like you, we have managed the real terms cuts to date with difficulty and still delivered good results for our pupils. We buy services and supplies collaboratively and negotiate hard to drive down costs. We have federated our schools and share a Headteacher and Business Manager. We have cut non-essential services, renegotiated costs and reduced our energy consumption to the bare minimum. However, the unfunded rise in costs through national insurance increases, pensions increases, pay rises and so on, coupled with rapidly rising non-staff costs and the burden of the apprenticeship levy are crippling us going forward.

    Worst of all, if the National Funding Formula goes ahead as currently designed, we and all other small rural schools in East Sussex will lose an unsustainable amount of funding, as the NFF would reduce the lump sum and the basic entitlement funding and put it into deprivation factors. Good for Schools in towns and cities, but disastrous for rural schools.

    We will become unviable by 2021, despite a reasonable current level of reserves. The cuts required would cause so great a detriment to the quality of teaching and to the safety of pupils that we could not meet the basic needs of running the schools. Even moving to a half day on one day a week, cutting Teaching Assistants by 50% and cutting the cleaning of the schools to 3 days a week will not fill the funding gap.

    The Government needs to wake up to the reality of what their policies are actually going to do. There is hope that the NFF will be altered after the consultation responses are considered but the sceptic in me suggests that they may think small rural schools are not “necessary” schools. It is ironic that the amount of extra traffic and burden of the cost of transporting children from the age of 4 to large town schools together with the expansion costs of those larger schools will actually cost more than adequately funding the rural schools in the first place!

  2. Stephen Fowler

    Greg Coleman: “However, the unfunded rise in costs through national insurance increases, pensions increases, pay rises and so on”

    – Is there no way you can find any savings in the pensions and salaries budget? Or is that impossible, as these are the top priorities? I am sure that when these teachers joined the profession they said they did it for a love of children and not a love of money.