7,000 headteachers sending letter home with pupils accusing DfE of refusing to face effects of cuts
The education secretary, Damian Hinds, has been criticised by the headteachers’ campaigning group Worth Less? for refusing to meet headteachers and hear first-hand their struggles with funding cuts.
In a letter from more than 7,000 headteachers that is being sent to millions of families across England, the group says it has been rebuffed three times after approaching Hinds for a meeting, and wants parents to lobby their MPs and the government for more money to help schools.
“When thousands of moderate headteachers are all saying that we can’t balance the books, and cuts continue to vital curricular and pastoral services, it’s extraordinary that the Department for Education (DfE) is unwilling to meet,” said Jules White, a headteacher in West Sussex and one of the Worth Less? organisers.
The letter will be sent home with pupils on Friday to more than 3m households across 65 local authorities, detailing its attempts to meet Hinds.
“We have written to the secretary of state for education on three separate occasions since September 2018. We are dismayed that he has chosen to ignore our communications and repeated requests to meet,” the letter states.
In December, the letter says, its request to meet Hinds or other ministers was turned down by a “junior civil servant”, who told the group: “I hope you will understand that their time is heavily pressurised and their diaries need to be prioritised according to ministerial, parliamentary and constituency business.”
A further request in mid-January was rejected six weeks later, with the group told: “As I’m sure you will appreciate, their diaries are very full and they are unable to accept your kind offer at this time.”
The letter said a meeting with Hinds was necessary “to reflect the serious concerns expressed by families” over cuts as well as rising concerns over the effects of austerity through cuts to pastoral and social care previously supported by local councils.
The heads’ letter also details the funding problems that state schools in England face, saying that since 2010 their budgets have been reduced on average by 8% in real terms, with cuts of 20% in funding for sixth form and post-16 students.
“Heads want meaningful reassurance that the DfE understands the scale of our concerns and has a credible plan going forward,” White said.
“We fear that there is a ‘backs to the wall’ state of denial from ministers and a refusal to meet the very people who are dealing with the crisis on a day-to-day basis is untenable.
“At every stage headteachers have sought to be part of the solution and with a critical spending review upcoming our political masters should be engaging with us rather than acting in a manner that says that our united voice is meaningless.”
The DfE did not respond to questions over why Hinds had been unable to meet the headteachers. But a spokesperson for the DfE said: “In the year that he has been in post the education secretary has secured an extra £400m of capital funding for schools from the Treasury, provided an additional £350m to local councils for high needs funding and has been making a strong case for education spending across government ahead of the next spending review.
“School funding in England is at its highest ever level, rising from almost £41bn in 2017-18 to £43.5bn by 2019-20.”
Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said children were “paying the price for austerity”.
“It is totally wrong that the education secretary has buried his head in the sand and refused to meet these teachers. What could be a more important priority for any education secretary than the education of our children and meeting with teachers who are concerned about school budgets?” Rayner said.
“The prime minister and her ministers need to listen to these teachers instead of repeating dodgy and misleading statistics about school funding.”
Last year, the Worth Less? group organised a rally outside parliament that drew an unprecedented number of state school headteachers from around England. More than 2,000 school leaders attended the protest to draw attention to budget cuts their schools have faced.
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) held a meeting of its national executive committee to discuss the funding crisis, with its members having written to more than 1m families in the past three months to warn of funding cuts.
“This feels like a pivotal moment. 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. Yet the government’s response is one of institutional deafness,” said Paul Whiteman, the NAHT’s general secretary.