TODAY the Bury Times reveals the impact of the "funding crisis" on Bury's schools.

Saiqa Chaudhari reports.

Bury Times:

BURY'S number one primary school recently approached parents asking them to consider making a regular donation - and is now setting up a fundraising forum so it can balance the books.

Lowercroft Primary School is Ofsted-rated outstanding and is also one of the best in the country ­— but as well as maintaining and improving already high standards, the headteacher and the governors are having to come up with ways to raise money after it lost £27,216 off its budget under a new formula.

Two years ago it reduced the school day to help balance the books but now new ideas of generating income while reducing costs ­— including classroom and IT resources ­— are needed otherwise the school is looking at a budget deficit running into tens of thousands of pounds in the coming years.

Calculations show that if parents donated £10 per term the school would raise £7,350.

Lowercroft Primary School's situation is not an isolated case.

An investigation by the Bury Times has revealed that:

- Teachers buying pens and pencils for pupils,

- Parents Teachers Association (PTAs) raising money to buy basic essential equipment

- Activities designed to embed and bring learning to life being cut

- Parents being asked to consider making regular donations to the school.

- Schools relying on community to bring in money

Speaking on behalf of the governing body, Tessa Farr, head of Lowercroft School, said: "We have once again received a reduction in our funding and whilst we have managed to balance the budget at £65 this year, going forward into the financial year of 2020/21, we are having to think very creatively about how we are going to address a projected deficit.

"Service costs have already been reduced as much as they can be and reducing staffing and the number of hours in the school day are not an option for us as we are already operating on a minimum.

"We recently shared this information with parents at an open meeting. We did this so that parents could better understand why difficult decisions around staffing have been made, and so that as a community, we could develop ideas to generate an income for school. We have had an amazing response from parents since the meeting, and the support they have offered us has been staggering.

"Our PTA already raise a lot of money and events are very well supported, but on top of this our parents have offered to donate money, be involved in working parties, volunteer time and expertise. We are currently following all these offers up and will be creating a Fundraising Forum to help prioritise ideas and convert them into actions."

She added: “Every decision the governors and I make is for the children. They are at the centre of everything we do. Most of our time should be taken up making sure our children receive the best educational experience we can possible give them not finding ways to generate an income."

Bury Times:

Gill Evans, headteacher of Holcombe Brook Primary School said: “We are relying on the community and the PTA to raise money.

“We look at the community to rent our premises which in turn provides a peppercorn rent that helps us to pay for a teaching assistant.

“The PTA have raised money for a sensory garden, a calm space, for children with additional needs can go and have raised money to buy laptops because the ones we had were coming to the end of their lifespan.

“We have a very active PTA and are using more and more of their funds to buy the basics. Our parent body is very supportive."

Mrs Evans said enrichment activities, such as arts and crafts, were having to be looked at.

“We are having to look at visiting authors," she explained, "A First Aid course we put on for Year Five, I have to ask myself is that really vital – activities which enrich the curriculum,” said Mrs Evans, who added the school was examining whether it could afford to run a successful transition course from primary school to secondary school, which is said to help children settle into learning quickly.

“Every year we do a development plan, but now we are having to look at the resources before we can commit to all the objectives of the development plan," said Mrs Evans.

Earlier this year, Cllr Lucy Smith set up a campaign to highlight the desperate financial situation of the borough's schools.

"Schools can no longer paper over the cracks, it is not even a metaphor anymore" she said.

This week, the councillor together with colleagues and supporters dramatically highlighted how much schools have lost out on "because of Government cuts to per pupil funding since 2015" on banners.

Bury Times:

According to the School Cuts website 76 schools have suffered cuts to per pupil funding and Bury schools have lost out of £28.1 million between 2015 and 2019 as measured by the difference between funding and the amount needed to protect per pupil funding in real terms.

Cllr Smith said: "What has been really good about this campaign is how we are working with the schools.

"We started off talking to the heads and the stories we have heard ­— they can't put the heating on, God knows what going to happen in winter, they can't recruit teachers in the core subjects, losing staff, teachers are demoralised they are funding their own classes with pens and pencils out of their salaries and everyone is having to scrape together, parents are being asked to do more and more financially."

She said she started the campaign after realising the loss per pupil real terms funding, which Cllr Smith said is up to £500 per pupil.

"This is big cut, this is teachers' lives, its children's lives it is the buildings, it is the paper we need, its the library books, its the safety at playtimes, when I saw the cumulative total it made me wake up that something needs to be done.

"I have a little boy and we are also asked to put our hands in our pocket towards his education, I'm lucky enough that I can but it is not right for those who can't.

Cllr Smith said she was told by one headteacher, "I want to do the best for these kids and I actually believe the best for my kids now is to get behind your campaign and get everyone else behind it, that's the only thing we can do that will make these kids life better."

Bury Times:

Cllr Mary Whitby is also the chair of governors at Mersey Drive Primary School.

She said: "The cuts to school budgets that are going to affect the education of our most vulnerable children in this borough, within the country as a whole, it is absolutely scandalous that they take money away from children who need it to give it to banks. it is just morally wrong.

"We recently had to have a new build because one of the building's is just inhabitable and we haven't really got the funds to kit out that new build.

"That new build is not just for our children at Mersey Drive but it provides Bury's provision for autistic children so we are doing our best to try and get funds ­— we are applying for grants for library books that is outrageous."

Cllr Smith said in response to the government's claim that record amounts of money is being put into the education system: "There is no point adding up numbers and fighting over numbers it is about per pupil so you can give more money but if pupils have doubled in number everyone can do the maths on that."

Bury Times:

Bury National Education Union District Secretary Natasha Shears said: "Funding cuts have had a devastating impact on our schools. Class sizes are increasing and support staff including teaching assistants are being made redundant, both of which are adding to teacher workload.

"Combined with year after year of real terms pay cuts it is no wonder there is a recruitment crisis in teaching. Meanwhile the lack of funding means teachers and teaching assistants regularly buy resources themselves whilst schools have been forced to beg parents for money to cover basic materials. Some schools have already had to cut the length of the school day to cut costs.

"Teachers, headteachers, support staff, parents and the wider community are increasingly alarmed by these cuts that are damaging our children's futures. This is just the first step in our campaign to reverse the cuts to funding and make sure our schools are equipped to give every child the education they need to reach the best of their abilities."


Bury Times:

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “This year, under the national funding formula, funding for schools in Bury has increased by 4.5 per cent per pupil, compared to 2017-18. This is above the national average of 3.2 per cent and is equivalent to an extra £6.8 million in total, when rising pupil numbers are taken into account.

"We’ve made funding fairer across the country but recognise budgets remain tight which is why we’re supporting schools and head teachers to make the most of their budgets and reduce costs on things like energy, water bills and materials.

"Fundraising is not new to the education system. Since 2011, around 0.7 per cent of schools total income has come from voluntary donations. When requesting voluntary contributions, schools must make clear to parents that they are under no obligation to donate.

"The Secretary of State has made clear that as we approach the next spending review, he will back head teachers to have the resources they need to deliver a world class education."

The department for education outlined that the schools mentioned received between 0.9 per cent to 3.4 per cent more funding per pupil compared to 2017-18. But say unions this does not address the underfunding from previous years and rising costs such as National Insurance.