Unions claim hundreds of Fylde coast teaching jobs at risk

School children in a classroom
School children in a classroom

Hundreds of teaching jobs on the Fylde coast are at risk from a lack of funding, union bosses have warned.

One Blackpool headteacher says some schools could be forced to shut down entirely in the face of budget freezes and rising costs.

But teaching unions’ estimate that the lack of investment amounts to real-terms cuts of £65m in Lancashire has been branded ‘scaremongering’ by the Department for Education.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the ATL Education Union say without additional cash from the Government, Blackpool risks losing 145 teachers by 2020 - and another 1,596 jobs could go across Lancashire.

Andy Mellor, headteacher at St Nicholas CE Primary in Marton, said: “We have looked at paring back the budget, but there’s nothing left to squeeze out of it.

“We are at a point where potentially some of the smaller schools could find themselves going under.”

The warning comes after chancellor Philip Hammond ignored the issue of school funding in Wednesday’s Autumn Statement.

His only reference to schools’ budgets – to announce a £50m pot to help existing grammar schools expand – was dismissed by the NUT as ‘disappointing’.

The NUT and ATL unions estimate there could be 145 fewer teachers in Blackpool by 2020, with a further 1,596 jobs at risk across Lancashire.

The Department for Education described the unions’ figures as speculative and said the way schools are funded is set to be overhauled in 2018.

However, the unions have said the reforms won’t make matters any better.

Mr Mellor, who has previously fought the Government over now-scrapped plans to force schools to become academies, said his school’s funding has been frozen for the past three years, and said he has already had to look at letting staff on temporary contracts go.

“We can see the amount of money we have in reserve, which is a small amount we built up for a rainy day,” he said. “I don’t think it will get any wetter than this.

“In three or four years’ time, all our reserve will have gone.”

St Nicholas, in School Lane, no longer has a furniture budget to replace broken chairs or desks, while classroom resources have also been used sparingly, he added, with spending on books and pencils, as well as other materials dropping from £30,000 to £12,000 per annum.

He said: “We have made savings. We have had a year or two and most prudent heads will look at maintaining staffing levels because the most valuable commodity are the people working with the children.

“We have looked at paring back the budget, but there’s nothing left to squeeze out of it.”

Schools funding was conspicuous by its absence in Wednesday’s Autumn Statement, which was branded ‘disappointing’ by the NUT.

Kevin Courtney, the union’s general secretary, said: “The Government is not protecting education funding – it remains on course to inflict significant real terms cuts.

“All that [Chancellor] Philip Hammond has done is restate his commitment of £50m in new capital funding to support grammar schools.”

Mr Mellor said he’s aware other sectors, including the emergency services and the NHS, are also struggling for cash, but said: “My argument would be that kids get one go at education and school. I just feel as a taxpayer that I pay my tax because I want the children of this country to have a top class education.”

He also called on the government to let schools know whether there is light at the end of the tunnel or not.

He added: “If this continues we will be in dire straits and in a really bad way.

“The government says there’s no cuts and they are technically right, but in realistic terms they are not funding schools properly. How long is this going on for?”

Almost 1,000 council-run schools – around five per cent of all schools – and more than 100 academy trusts in England are in the red, it was revealed earlier this month. The government had planned to introduce its new ‘national funding formula’, which it said would end historic disparity between authorities, next year, but recently pushed it back to 2018/19.

Until then, schools will still be funded through a local formula set by their local authority, though education secretary Justine Greening told councils they won’t see funding reduced next year.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The NUT and ATL’s report would appear to be irresponsible scaremongering, based on figures that are entirely speculative.

“In reality the schools budget has been protected and in 2016-17 totals over £40b, the highest ever on record.

“The government’s fairer funding proposals will ensure that areas with the highest need attract the most funding and end the historic unfairness in the system.” Mr Courtney said: “No headteacher should be put in the position of increasing class sizes, leaving building repairs undone or cutting staff and resources simply to balance the books. Nor should any parent accept this for their child.

“We are one of the richest countries in the world. We can and we should be funding our schools properly.”

And Mary Bousted, from union ATL, added: “The government must increase funding for schools. If it just reallocates the existing budget many children will lose out, with some of the most deprived hit hardest.

“The formula for schools’ funding must not be reformed while making real terms cuts to spending.

“All children deserve a fair chance to succeed and should not suffer because schools are under-resourced and teachers over-worked.”