'It breaks my heart to think we could be dropping back on all the improvements we’ve made'

July 28 2017

Redland Green School has some of the best exam results in Bristol - but funding cuts are putting this proud record at risk. In an interview with Bishopston Voice, head teacher Sarah Baker explains the financial crisis in education

 

Redland Green School has some of the best exam results in Bristol - but funding cuts are putting this proud record at risk. In an interview with Bishopston Voice, head teacher Sarah Baker explains the financial crisis in education

 

FEWER teachers and support staff, bigger class sizes, a reduced curriculum … these are the realities for Redland Green School as it looks ahead to the new academic year and beyond.

Head teacher Sarah Baker, who has led the secondary since it opened in 2006, made headlines earlier this year when she wrote to parents to ask them to consider making financial contributions to the school.

Just before the summer holidays, Education Secretary Justine Greening announced an additional £1.3bn would go into school budgets and said that all would see a 0.5 per cent increase in their per-pupil funding from April. She has delayed implementation of a national funding formula, which could have put city schools at risk of more cuts.

But Ms Baker said these measures were nowhere near enough to solve the challenges her school, and others, face.

Budgets have been squeezed over several years and it is becoming increasingly hard to make ends meet, which has led to tough decisions. 

She said: “The issue is not really about whether we have a new funding system or an old funding system - it’s about the lack of money in the system. The size of the pot is the issue with the constant cuts.

"We are very pleased that the government has responded to the school leaders, parents and politicians who have been raising concerns about cuts in funding. This will provide some relief in the short term, but we still have concerns it will be insufficient to meet the needs of a growing school population in Bristol."

Cuts are already having an impact on subject choice. German A-level is no longer offered and GCSE textiles has been dropped. 

 

Curriculum

 

Ms Baker said: “We make decisions every year based on what people choose so we can maximise options. In Key Stage 3, children won’t get such a broad range as they would have done before in subjects such as Art, Design and Technology and that limits their options when they get to Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5. Once you’ve lost a teacher, it’s very hard to bring that subject back.

“We will be reviewing our curriculum in full next year with parents and will have to make sure that we have a rational curriculum that meets the needs of our students and that is value for money. The money will be a much more important factor than it would have been when we were set up. Now we have to say what we would like to do and within that ask what we can afford to do.”

The school’s overall annual budget is over £7 million but revenue was down by more than £200,000 this year, having already dropped six per cent the year before. This is despite an increase in the number of students at the school - 27 in each new Year 7 intake.

Additional funding that used to come via the city council for High Needs and Special Educational Needs is drastically down, sixth form funding has been cut and other grants reduced.

Less than eight per cent of Redland Green students are classed as disadvantaged, compared to a citywide average of nearly 30 per cent. Schools receive additional funding for each disadvantaged student.

“We get about £80,000 a year whereas there will be some schools that get hundreds of thousands. That’s why if you look at funding per student overall, Redland Green is the lowest funded school in the city. 

“I think it’s important that people understand how challenging it is for us at the moment. We are dropping down to almost inoperable levels now - we’ve had to go to parents and ask them to give us some money if they can.We are asking for funding for things that ten years ago we would have been able to fund ourselves,” said Ms Baker.

The school, which has nearly 1400 students aged 11 to 18, has cut staff over recent years in spite of rising pupil numbers. It now has 83 full-time teachers (down three),  23 learning support assistants (down three) and 40 other support staff (down five).This meansfewer staff in place to administer trips, counselling or help children who need extra input. Class sizes will be increased to 29 or 30, instead of 27 and the school is looking at ways to use technology to reduce costs and teacher workload. 

Staff costs amount to 80% of the school’s budget. “We want experienced staff and that’s what makes this school good but one of our challenges is that our staff are relatively expensive because we have experienced, well-qualified staff who like working here and want to stay. Other schools can’t recruit staff.”

Ms Baker fears that the financial constraints put at risk the progress made by her school and others in the city over the last 10-15 years.

“Bristol had a double system with one of the highest rates of private education and people going out of the city. One of the reasons that this school was set up to ensure that there was a good state education for all children. That has ripples and has been part of a movement in which parents now have faith in the Bristol school system and send their children to school in the city when they didn’t before. 

“It’s not just Redland Green, it’s Orchard, Henbury, Fairfield - they are all good now. We work with other schools, sharing information and strategies.”

Sarah Baker is chair of the network of secondary heads and works with the primary heads and City of Bristol College to try to improve schools. 

“It breaks my heart to think that we could be dropping back on all the improvements we’ve made. All the inclusion work we’ve done. How we’ve got children from disadvantaged backgrounds improving outcomes.

“We will continue to provide a really excellent education for the children but it is unlikely to have as many trimmings as it might have had. If parents, the local community and local businesses can contribute in any way to enrich the opportunities our students have then we’d really welcome that,” she added.