As September closes and the nights draw in, our new school year is well underway. We have welcomed 180 new year 7 students to the school and year 5 and 6 students have attended our Open Evening, with many visiting during the school day. We welcome all year 10 and 11 students to join us for our post-16 Open Evening on Wednesday 7th November.
One of the most pressing issues I have communicated with you about is that of school funding. This is not a political issue, but a statement of fact, that during the last 8 years school budgets have effectively reduced by 8% (https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/13143). Whilst assurances have been given that the ‘per pupil’ amount of funding has remained the same, the reality is that inflation has caused costs to rise and whilst there has been a freeze on Public Sector Pay for many years, there have been substantial increases in employer contributions to Pensions and National Insurance which have not been centrally funded. They therefore have to come out of the money provided to educate the children, hence the effective 8% cut.
What does an 8% cut really mean? A typical Worcestershire secondary school with around 1,000 students will receive an annual budget of around £5,000,000. Take away 8% and that’s a reduction of £400,000, which would , for example, employ 8 or 9 full-time teachers. I took part in a march on Friday with between 1,500 and 2,000 other Head Teachers, from Parliament Square to Downing Street. We presented a letter to the Chancellor highlighting our concerns and requesting an urgent review of school funding in the next budget, with a view to restoring funding levels. To offer some context, in my eleventh year of Headship I have never done this before. Given that the average secondary school has around 1,000 students, between us we represented the interests of between 1,500,000 and 2,000,000 students. We do not take such action lightly.
I have received criticism from some quarters that I was ‘on a jolly’ and should have been in school. May I give you my assurance that I was able to work from my laptop on the train in both directions, and met colleague Head Teachers who I was able to discuss a number of school to school collaboration matters with whilst on the march. Aside from the core purpose of fighting for our school budgets, it was not a wasted day. We were and are a relentlessly reasonable group of people who simply want the education of the children in our care to be properly funded. I was there with the full support of my Chair of Governors and it was most definitely a working day.
The final point I make is about Sixth Form funding. When I started my first role as a school leader in 2001, it was to manage a Sixth Form at a time when lower school students attracted around £3,500 to £4,000 each per year and Sixth Formers around £6,000 to £6,500. Whilst lower school students now attract £4,500 to £5,000 a Sixth Former attracts a flat rate of £4,000. These same Sixth Formers then pay £9,000 per year for their tuition fees when they go to University. How can the cost of educating a Sixth Former be less than a lower school student, then suddenly more than double when they go to University? This surely cannot represent the true cost of educating our young people? The majority of Sixth Forms are heavily subsidised by their lower school, again an unfair burden.
Onto other matters, our evolution as ‘The Bewdley School’ with our associated ‘Bewdley Sixth Form’ continues. I hope that you are as delighted with our new website as we are, which represents, along with Our Schools App, a transformation in our capacity to communicate with our community. I would also like to thank Worcestershire County Council for funding in full the new fencing and gates around the school, which make the whole site much more safe and secure for our students.
I was honoured to be invited to the unveiling of the Statue of Stanley Baldwin on 27th September, a great event for the town of Bewdley. I was delighted to see our Young Mayor, Star Powell, and Deputy, Erin Boddice amidst the group of Mayors welcoming the Duke of Gloucester and other dignitaries to the town. I must also take this opportunity to thank the current (and fourth) Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, who has kindly consented to our newly formed Baldwin House using his family shield as its Coat of Arms.
Thank you for your continued support of this great school, its exceptional support and pastoral care and wonderful teachers, who it is my privilege to work with.