Hatfield head: ‘Our schools are starved of cash’

Bishop's Hatfield Girls' School headteacher Theodora Nickson.

Bishop's Hatfield Girls' School headteacher Theodora Nickson. - Credit: Archant

Looming budget cuts will hit Welwyn Hatfield comprehensives hard, the headteacher of one of the borough’s leading secondary schools has warned.

Theodora Nickson, head of the officially “outstanding” Bishop’s Hatfield Girls’ School, has told the Welwyn Hatfield Times she and her fellow-heads will soon be forced to make tough choices to stay solvent.

She said: “The future is bleak.

“I challenge any MP to write a school budget with what we have.”

With fellow members of the council of the Association of School and College Leaders (ACSL), she will be pressing Secretary of State Justine Greening on the issue at its annual conference in Birmingham this weekend.

Using National Audit Office data, Hertfordshire headteachers have calculated that total funding in the county’s schools will fall between 10.4 per cent and 13.4 per cent by 2019/20.

As well as overall reductions in government spending, this may be partly due to the Government’s proposed new School Funding Formula, under public consultation until March 22.

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Although the Government says this will merely re-prioritise existing funding, Hertfordshire headteachers provisionally calculate it will reduce county budgets by at least 16 per cent for the 14-16 age group.

When the Government announced it wanted to update the formula three years ago, Ms Nickson and many other headteachers were optimistic, but the stage two consultation draft published in December dashed her hopes.

She said: “We had been hoping that the National Funding Formula would address these issues, but it is not what we wanted at all.”

Like all state schools, Bishop’s Hatfield has already tightened its belt in recent years, for instance by allowing average class sizes to grow from 27 to 30 for Key Stage Three.

But with the cuts that she anticipates in coming years, Ms Nickson fears schools may have to cut non-teaching staff such as pastoral teams, who play a valuable role to the wider society, for example by identifying children with mental health or family problems.

She said: “Insufficient funding now is going to cost other government departments, such as health and social security, in the future. It is really short-sighted.”

Other vulnerable areas include work experience weeks, organised by an agency at a cost of about £3,000 for a year group.

Ms Nickson said: “Whenever a teacher comes to me with an idea, I have to ask, can we afford it? We have business managers to keep an eye on the budget. They are really important.”

She urges parents to lobby their MPs, and respond to the current consultation on the funding formula at https://consult.education.gov.uk/funding-policy-unit/schools-national-funding-formula2/consultation/intro/ before March 22.