Surge in class sizes in Portsmouth area despite cuts to school budgets

Class sizes have increased
Class sizes have increased

Pupils inspired by air traffic control centre ​​​​​​

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STRUGGLING schools have been forced to take on more pupils as their budgets have been cut by £11.3m in four years, a study has revealed.

Research by the Schools Cuts coalition of teaching unions has shown that class sizes have surged in a majority of schools in the area, with more than 1,900 additional children being taught now than four years ago.

Yet despite this increase, schools collectively are facing an £11.3m drop in their budgets by 2019/20, since 2014/15, Schools Cuts has said.

The situation has been branded as ‘impossible’, with one of the area’s largest teaching unions saying school staff across the board are at breaking point.

Amanda Martin represents almost three-quarters of teachers across Portsmouth as part of the National Union of Teachers.

She is demanding the government pumps more money into education and said: ‘Schools are facing an impossible task.

‘It’s horrendous for headteachers having to deal with this situation.

‘The government has said it will be putting more cash into schools in one way or another – but there are more pupils now than ever before.

‘It’s the places with the most deprivation that are being hit the hardest.

‘What is happening is awful and it needs to change.

‘It’s a mess and the government has got to do something.’

The figures released by Schools Cuts – which is made up of six unions – shows Havant has borne the brunt of the cuts, with almost £3.5m hacked from school’s coffers in the constituency.

On average, teachers now have £257 less to spend per pupil since 2014/16.

While in Gosport £2.7m has been taken, with £4,359 spent on each pupil per year – £197 less than four years ago.

Combined, the constituencies of Portsmouth North and Portsmouth South have seen almost £3.6m axed from schools, with the south of the city bearing the lion’s share.

Among those worst hit in the city included Ark Charter Academy, which has £354,388 less to spend on pupils having seen an increase of 72 youngsters attended the school.

Mark Masters, acting principal of the academy, said the site was taking on more pupils to address the city’s lack of provision.

He backed calls to the government to increase its cash support for school.

‘The more money we have for a community which has suffered a lot of deprivation over the years, the better,’ he told The News.

Nationally, the study showed that there was a £500m shortfall in cash for secondary schools, with 62 per having had to increase classroom sizes during this period. Fareham is among areas bucking the funding trend, with an additional £301,491 being pumped into its education sites.

Even in the face of cuts, Portsmouth councillors say some city schools will benefit ‘slightly’ from recent funding changes – and will still receive the ‘highest possible’ quality of education.

Cllr Hannah Hockaday, cabinet member for education, said: ‘It is for schools to manage their budgets and determine class sizes.

‘Portsmouth’s secondary schools will benefit slightly from an early introduction of the new national funding formula, which will be reflected fully in secondary schools’ budgets for 2018-2019.

‘Growing numbers of students will mean additional funding for schools which are not already full to capacity.

‘The schools are also working together, through the new Portsmouth Education Partnership, to make sure children get the highest possible quality of education.’

At a regional level, Hampshire County Council’s executive lead for children’s services, Keith Mans, said some subject classes with low pupil rosters had been withdrawn by schools because they were no longer affordable.

He also cited a national trend of ‘reducing management’ and ‘back office costs’ to pay for teaching staff.