Dorset Against School Cuts

School Cuts in Dorset

Local campaign group delivers petition to local MPs

Nationally, according to the School Cuts website, schools have lost out on £4.5bn in funding since 2015. Over 17,000 schools in England have suffered because of cuts to per pupil funding during that time.  Of the 150 schools in Dorset, 103 are in crisis. There is a £4.4m shortfall in 2020, meaning the difference between funding received and the amount needed to protect pupil funding in real terms.

Some Dorset schools have been hit hard. For example, Bovington Academy has a shortfall of £211,396, while The Thomas Hardye School has a shortfall of £225,180. South Dorset parents, whose children have special educational needs, have especially felt the pain of spending cuts.

Dorset Against School Cuts, a grass roots campaign movement of Dorset parents and teachers, collected over 3,000 signatures against the cuts. Campaigners presented the petition to Richard Drax, MP for South Dorset, in February this year.

Pic: Dorset MP, Richard Drax, with Claire Hodgson OBE, and Chris Bradey, both of Dorset Against School Cuts campaign group.

Last October, in an extraordinary response, Gavin Williamson, Secretary State for Education, said on BBC TV, that things were “a bit tight in schools”, and that they “needed a bit of extra money.”

The following article explains what happened when local campaigners met with Richard Drax, and outlines in detail the extent and effects of school cuts nationally and in Dorset.





Dorset Against School Cuts

Dorset Against School Cuts, a grassroots campaign movement of Dorset parents and teachers, collected over 3,000 signatures in a petition to local MPs: Richard Drax, Conservative MP for South Dorset since 2010, and Michael Tomlinson, Conservative MP for Mid Dorset, and North Poole, since 2015.

Campaigners supported teachers’ concerns over the effects of school underfunding on the quality of education for Dorset children. According to the respected School Cuts website, after years of cuts, of the 150 schools in Dorset, 103 are currently in crisis. The website states that there is a £4.4m shortfall in 2020 (the difference between funding received, and the amount needed to protect pupil funding in real terms). The per pupil loss is minus £94 (the amount lost for every pupil in Dorset because of the reduced budget).

Dorset has 43,948 pupils, according to the latest School Census. Some schools in Dorset have been badly affected: for example, Bovington Academy has a shortfall of £211,396, and a per pupil loss of £678. Similarly, the Thomas Hardye School has a shortfall of £225,180, and a per pupil loss of £167. Furthermore, Stoborough Church of England Primary School has a shortfall of £96,989 and a per pupil loss of £466.

The Reality of School Cuts

The respected Institute for Fiscal Studies confirms the reality of school cuts. Luke Sibieta, speaking for the Institute, is quoted by The Guardian (Saturday 9 November 2019) as saying: “analysis shows that most schools will have seen real-term cuts in school funding per pupil between 2015 and 2020 once you account for confirmed school funding allocations and the likely costs faced by schools.”

Nationally, says the School Cuts website, schools have lost out on £4.5bn in funding since 2015. Primary School classes are the largest since 2000: Secondary School classes are the largest since 2007. The website states that 17,723 schools, in England, have suffered cuts to per pupil funding since 2015, and that schools need an extra £2.2bn of new money per year just to maintain funding in real terms in the face of inflation, cost increases and rising pupil numbers. The website also states that 83% of schools in England will have less money next year than in 2015.

Dorset Against School Cuts campaigners meet with South Dorset’s MP, Richard Drax

Chris Bradey, a former Bournemouth Secondary School Headteacher, and Claire Hodgson, a Swanage parent, founder of Diverse City and co-founder of Extraordinary Bodies, awarded the OBE in 2016 for services to inclusion in the Performing Arts, together with Claire’s daughter, Scarlett, presented Richard Drax MP with the Dorset Against School Cuts petition in the House of Commons on Tuesday 25 February 2020.

Pic: Chris, Scarlett and Claire arriving at the House of Commons

The group outlined the consequences of school cuts to Mr Drax. Claire and Scarlett spoke of how Swanage Primary School had been affected. There were no full-time caretakers: parents were concerned that highly valued Teaching Assistants might be made redundant:  school trips and many enrichment activities were no longer on offer. Chris said that the Deputy Headteacher of Swanage Primary School had given a talk to Swanage Town Council about the pressures the school was under. Councillors had been shocked by what they had heard.

Claire spoke of the concerns of South Dorset parents whose children had Special Educational Needs (SEND children). The support given to these families had been badly affected because of cuts. To reinforce the point, Chris explained that giving all children a good education was vital. He quoted the words of the last CEO of OXFAM: “anything is possible if you are educated.”

Claire added that it was a serious matter that arts and culture were being dropped from the curriculum because of cuts. It was also a matter of serious concern that the Dorset Council Plan did not include the Arts. The Council, moreover, provided funding on a year by year basis: this stifled long-term Arts projects and planning.

Whilst with Mr Drax, Chris and Claire spoke of the damaging effects of social deprivation and poverty compounding the adverse consequences of school underfunding. There is evidence of significant poverty and inequality in South Dorset. Chris referred to the House of Commons Library Paper which noted that South Dorset had lowest degree of social mobility of all English Parliamentary Constituencies: 353rd out of 353 Constituencies. (House of Commons Library, Briefing Paper, Number CPB 8400, 15 October 2018).

Richard Drax said that he agreed the “extra” money being allocated to school was only back filling, restoring the position in schools to that of 2009. He said that he had fought for fair funding and had been visiting schools in his constituency. He went on to say that he was a member of the Fair Funding Group. He appreciated that the concerns of Dorset parents, with children who had special educational needs, were serious. Mr Drax said that he would take the petition to the Secretary of State. On a general note, he said that Dorset, overall, was poorly funded – it had been at the “bottom of the pile for too long.”

What the cuts mean to a Dorset school

Richard Drax, although he did not meet with Swanage Primary headteachers during the 2019 General Election (saying it would be inappropriate for him to do so), met with the headteacher of Swanage Primary School, Martin Godfrey, in early 2020. Martin was able to outline the day to day adverse consequences of under-funding for his school and its community.

When Chris met with Martin in December 2019, he explained how he and other senior teaching staff had unblocked school toilets because of there being no full-time site staff. Female members of staff had had to lock up the school in the dark as there was no caretaker. Parents had had to supply stationery for their children. Swanage Primary School has a shortfall, in 2020, of £6,062, and a per pupil loss of minus £33.

Astonishing response from Minister

Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, said on October 11, 2019:

“I have to confess, I do occasionally get it in the ear, being married to a teacher, and having a brother as a teacher, that things have been a bit tight in schools, and they’ve needed a little bit of extra money.”

What South Dorset’s MP said in the Commons and how he has voted

Richard Drax, speaking in the House of Commons (31 October 2018 and 15 January 2020), spoke of the need for the “levelling up of our schools funding”, referring in 2020 to the Fair Fund 40 Campaign Group of “lower funded councils.”

He has generally voted for greater autonomy for schools (5 votes for, 0 votes against, 10 absences, 2010-14). He also voted for raising England’s undergraduate tuition fee cap to £9,000 per year (1 vote for, 0 against, in 2010). Mr Drax has generally voted for academy schools (5 votes for, 0 against, 6 absences, 2010-16). He has consistently voted for ending financial support for some 16-19-year olds in training and further education (2 votes for, 0 votes against, in 2011).  He has consistently voted for university tuition fees (5 votes for, 0 votes against, between 2010-17).