Lib Dem County Council KCC candidate (for St. John's, Southborough and Southborough High Brooms)
To help me and the Liberal Democrats understand the issues the schools are currently facing, I have spent the two previous weeks meeting with the heads of the different schools. They have been open and honest, I am indebted to them. All the Heads said similar things: cuts in funding and changes to the national funding formula are negatively impacting their schools.
Most of Tunbridge Wells’ outstanding secondary schools are in the north of the town. It’s this area – Southborough and St Johns – that I’m standing as Lib Dem candidate in the upcoming County Council elections. The schools are at the heart of the local community here, and their prosperity directly links to the community’s prosperity. Any challenges they face challenge the fabric of our community – which is why I’m writing this piece, to alert you all to some of the difficulties they face.
Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys
Mr Marsh, Head of Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys highlights that:
"Although under the new proposed funding formula the school is expecting to see an increase of around £88,000 per year, the total schools budget for the formula doesn't take into account increases in teachers' and support staff salaries, increases in pension contributions, higher NIC contributions and the introduction of the apprenticeship levy. So, in reality, we will still be facing a real terms cut."
Mr. Marsh admitted:
"This year we have cut GCSE Statistics from the curriculum, and we have also cut back on the daily newspapers and on lunchtime cover. We fear that unless something is done soon to address the ongoing failure to adequately fund education, we may have to reduce staff numbers and introduce further changes to the curriculum."
St. Gregory's Catholic School
Mr. McQuillan, Head Teacher of St. Gregory's Catholic School said that “the educational services grant is set to fall by 57.1%. This is currently about £86,394 but will disappear into the national funding formula for the under 16 allocation. So even though national funding is increased by 3.63%** students' health and educational needs pre-16 will be reduced and that "lower level" needs will have to be supported by the teaching staff.”
He also fears that there will be changes to teaching and curriculum particularly to sixth form and post 16 allocation which has been losing funding over the past three years so, even with an increased budget, these pupils will suffer.
He says he has to balance the curriculum to make it as attractive to pupils to meet the demands of students and to meet their needs within the budgetary constraints.
Mrs. Wybar, the Head Teacher of TWGGS, said "The current funding situation is very challenging and indeed has been for TWGGS for several years. In response, we increased class sizes in the 6th form to a maximum of 26 many years ago and jointly deliver some A level subjects, such as German, with The Skinners' School to obtain optimum class sizes. This is only a small part of the cost-cutting measures taken; there is now nowhere left to cut!"
"Like most other schools, parents are asked to make an entirely voluntary contribution of £40 per pupil at the beginning of the academic year in order to help to fund extra curricular activities. This money does not fund teaching and learning."
Skinners' Grammar School
Mr. Wesson, Head Teacher of Skinners, said "Since 2010, funding for the school has been flat and the school has lost around £650,000 from its budget. This has led to higher class size in the lower school as well as in the Sixth Form.
With respect to the A-level curriculum, we will constantly have to review it in light of the current situation."
School equipment and infrastructure doesn't get renewed as often as it should.
The staff are paid according to the national pay scale. However, once long term staff leave, they tend to be replaced with lower salaried staff.
Since last summer the school has asked parents to make voluntary contributions for new textbooks for Science and RS at GCSE because there has such significant exam reform necessitating a range of new text books in almost all subjects.
The school receives under £4,000.00 per pupil...which is not enough.”
Tunbridge Wells is renowned for its great schools, but I believe the ‘gold star’ standard of education is being threatened by changes to the way schools are funded. All of us – residents, parents, councillors, local businesses – need to take these issues seriously and listen to the Heads. What can we do? We can lobby our MP, we can get involved in the schools and provide more support, we can fundraise. We must not take our schools for granted.
If you’re interested in helping the schools fundraise please contact the schools directly. If you’d like to discuss any of these issue with me or the Lib Dems please call 07715 695169.
Candidate for Tunbridge Wells North