School in Stockport to close early on Fridays for lack of funding | Education
A state school in Greater Manchester is to close early on Fridays from September and charge parents who cannot pick their children up at lunchtime, in what teaching unions said was a sign that schools are “at absolute breaking point”.
Vale View primary in Reddish, Stockport, is believed to be one of at least 25 schools in England to take the drastic measure of shortening the school week in order to cut costs.
The chair of governors raised hackles among parents by trying to sell the half-day as a boon for families. “With such busy lives, we are sure many families will want to take advantage of their children finishing earlier one day a week; a great opportunity to catch up, tackle homework or just have some quality family time,” wrote Dr Ricky van Deursen in a letter to parents earlier this month.
The headteacher, Helen Hannah, said the remark was “well intentioned” but understood why it angered parents who worked or had children at different schools. Yet she insisted there was no alternative.
Statutory pay rises had led to a £100,000 budgetary black hole and she was already making “double-figure” redundancies out of a staff of 90, Hannah said. Reneging on the early Friday closure would lead to more layoffs and bigger class sizes of up to 40 children, she warned.
From September, classes will finish at 12.45pm each Friday. Parents who will not be able to pick up their children early will have to pay £3.50 per child to cover the costs of an after-school club.
Governors said they had already cut almost £400,000 from the school’s budget since January 2017. Art therapy is due to stop in July, saving £9,500, and support for speech and language therapy has already been reduced by £16,000.
The school has saved a further £50,000 by cutting subsidies for school trips, £40,000 on support for pupils sitting their year 6 Sats exams, £100,000 on resources and £136,000 by not replacing teaching assistants when they left or retired.
One parent said he was troubled by the move: “Not just because of the impact on the children, but on all the staff as well. This is a school that tries very hard for all of the children, so I believe them when they say that this is the least worst option.”
The father criticised the chair of governors, who “could have demonstrated better understanding of parents’ situations by not suggesting that they enjoy more leisure time with their children … Many families around here are scraping by and making do as it is, and this change absolutely will not help them or be welcomed.”
Schools in Stockport, one of Greater Manchester’s wealthier boroughs, got a raw deal, said Hannah, the headteacher since 2017. Reddish is one of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, but pupils there receive £650 less than their counterparts a few streets away in Manchester, she said.
“Running a school in Stockport costs exactly the same in terms of teachers’ salaries and the cost of providing a good curriculum, and yet a comparable Manchester school half a mile away would receive £350,000 more per year in basic funding,” Hannah added.
The school insisted children’s learning would not be jeopardised and timetabled teaching time would be reduced by just 20 minutes each week because the school day would be slightly extended from Monday to Thursday.
Hannah said she had received 21 emails from parents of the 550 pupils about the change. “Half were supportive and half were against. The emails against focus on the inconvenience of the closure on Fridays and the cost of childcare: even though it is reasonably priced, it’s a cost that parents have got to find,” she said.
She insisted the change was definitely happening “unless there was a significant change in funding”.
Andrew Gwynne, the local Labour MP, urged the government to increase school funding: “My message to ministers is clear: don’t hide behind false statistics suggesting you are protecting school budgets. This is a direct consequence of cutting the per-pupil funding in deprived communities like Reddish and the children in Reddish deserve a proper, decent, full-time education.”
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said shortening the school week should be ringing alarm bells for the government.
“School budgets are at absolute breaking point. School leaders have made all the obvious savings – now they are faced with having to make major changes to the way they provide education,” he said.
Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the trend of early closures in England was connected to the funding cuts many schools were facing.
“Headteachers are having to make decisions that no one working in schools and colleges ever thought they would have to make,” he said.
The government said it did not know how many schools had introduced half-days because they are not required to notify the Department for Education (DfE). But Hannah said she had liaised with headteachers in Calderdale, Bradford, Manchester, Birmingham and London who “have all done similar or are doing so”.
A DfE spokesperson said: “Any changes made to the school day need to be reasonable and parents need to be adequately consulted before changes are made, so that they can make alternative arrangements for childcare.
“We have protected the core schools budget overall in real terms since 2010, and put an additional £1.3bn into core schools funding across 2018-19 and 2019-20, over and above plans set out at the last spending review.”