John Harris

Journalist & Author

Our schools are broke – so why aren’t we talking about it? | John Harris

Soaring class sizes, teaching hours cut, neglected repairs. Brexit has taken attention away from the cost of ideology-driven cuts

Michelle Gay is the headteacher of Osborne primary, a 270-pupil local authority school in Erdington, on the north-eastern edge of Birmingham. In total, 25% of her pupils are categorised as having special educational needs, 39% have a first language other than English, and 43% are eligible for free school meals.

Osborne primary has an urgent issue: a lack of money. Ofsted rates it as “a good school with outstanding leadership”, and since 2016 its numbers have been expanding: in September 2019 it will take on another new class, but Gay won’t have enough money to pay for a new teacher, so the teaching will be done by existing staff. She says she needs at least 13 classroom assistants to help children who need extra support – not least those who need help with English – but only has 11. The school used to get about £100,000 a year from Birmingham city council and other agencies to pay three staff who work on child protection and supporting parents, as well as counselling children with mental health issues. That money now has to come from the school’s own budgets. So to save £1,500, swimming lessons have been cut back, along with £2,000 worth of music tuition. Gay has explained all this on ITV Evening News and in the pages of the Birmingham Mail, but to no avail.

Related: Headteachers warn parents: there is not enough money to fund schools

Related: Our children are over-stressed. This is how we can protect them | Gaby Hinsliff

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