SCHOOLS across the county are struggling as government funding is failing to cover costs of day-to-day life.

Teachers say they are overstretched, left plugging the social care gaps left behind by county council cuts, while many staff members haven’t seen a pay rise in years, and children are using valuable learning time queueing up to use the same glue stick.

Headteachers say Somerset is a historically under-funded area, and the South West as a whole is hard-hit.

Richard Stead, headteacher of Milverton Primary School, said: “All schools are facing the same issue.

“School funding is like a cake, it doesn’t matter how you slice it, it’s not big enough.

“It’s clear if you look at the numbers, there is more money because the numbers are higher, but that doesn’t account for wage increases, prices going up with inflation.

“For most people there’s more money, however, things cost more, you aren’t better off.

“The National Audit Office said real-term cuts are at 8 per cent.

“We can’t just stop having HR, or payroll, or support staff. What gets cut is services for the children.

“Somerset is in the 40 worst-funded in the county and has been for decades. The South West is hard-hit.

“You see stories about teachers having to clean, or closing early on Fridays. No one wants to do that, people are taking desperate measures because there’s not enough funding.

“The government isn’t listening. They won’t even talk about it because they know they aren’t doing the right thing.”

Josh Wedderkopp, a teacher at Milverton as well as Crowcombe and Stogumber Primary School, has written an open letter, urging people to contact their political representatives to reverse the damage caused by the lack of funding.

He said: “I am a resident of Langford Budville, a parent and a primary school teacher.

“My oldest child is 10 years old and is a child of austerity.

“Year on year I have seen his schools forced to struggle with which aspects of his education to allow to degrade as their budget has reduced.

“I have taught in a West Somerset school for the same period of time and we have faced identical issues.

“With a decade of cuts in all government services, we are experiencing an ever increasing proportion of children coming into the school system with special educational, emotional and behavioural needs, and year on year schools have less money to support them.

“Government policy towards school funding has been like putting a child on a ruthless calorie controlled diet to reduce their weight. Our education system is now critically malnourished and the symptoms are horrible to behold. If we hope to build a strong future economy and society our education budget needs high-quality, long-term nourishment.

“Our children may only be a fraction of our current population but they are 100 per cent of our future.”

Mr Wedderkopp added how his school has ‘excellent’ parents, who work tirelessly to apply for grants and funding from a variety of sources, but he fears other schools might not be so lucky.

One of the largest primary schools in Taunton is also facing the same budget constraints, but ‘painful decisions’ to make teachers redundant has left them ‘okay, for now’.

Mike Snowden, headteacher of North Town Primary School, said: “Looking at our finances, we can afford to pay staff and provide an education to the children, but this relied upon difficult decisions about redundancies. If we hadn’t have made those decisions, we would be in very bad shape.

“Larger schools are feeling it too. It might be delayed for some, but it’s coming, if it hasn’t already arrived.”

Somerset County Gazette:
LEADER: Mike Snowden

Mr Snowden explained how there has been an increase in money from government, but this doesn’t account for ‘unfunded’ rises in things like National Insurance and pensions, leaving an ‘immense pressure’ on the budget. Plugging the social care gap for students with additional needs is also putting a strain on funds.

He added if the school were based in a London borough, as opposed to Somerset, there would be more than £500,000 of extra funding.

“Even when times were good, we were still doing more with less money than other areas,” he added. “It’s exacerbated now. It’s built-in unfairness, there needs to be systemic changes.”

Somerset County Council cabinet member for education, Cllr Faye Purbrick, said Somerset schools would receive ‘millions more’ if they received the national average.

She said: “I welcome any activity that draws attention to the funding challenges our schools face.

“Last week I encouraged my fellow councillors to sign up to the funding petition that led to a Westminster Hall debate on this very topic and we are grateful too for the work Somerset’s MPs have undertaken.

“But there is still a lot more to do. Looking at the average funding per pupil funding across the UK, Somerset schools fall below this and would receive an additional £13.4 million of funding per year if they received that average figure.

“We will continue to lobby for a fair funding deal for Somerset schools and will continue to work with local schools, peer groups and initiatives such as the Campaign for Fairer Funding in Education, and colleagues across government to represent our students’ needs.”