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Hard-up church-school head turns to his family to fill staff gaps

26 October 2022


The head teacher of St Peter’s C of E Primary School, in Budleigh Salterton, Steve Hitchcock, with his mother, Rose, who has been helping out as a lunchtime supervisor

The head teacher of St Peter’s C of E Primary School, in Budleigh Salterton, Steve Hitchcock, with his mother, Rose, who has been helping out as a lun...

SPIRALLING costs and staff shortages have forced the head teacher of a church school in Devon to ask his mother to help out as a lunch supervisor and to rope his sister in to do the cleaning.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has warned that schools are “cut to the bone”. The association has released data from a survey of its members, suggesting that 90 per cent of schools will go into deficit in the next academic year, and half expect to go into the red in the next 12 months.

The general secretary of the NAHT, Paul Whiteman, told the Observer on Sunday. “There are no easy fixes left. This will mean cutting teaching hours, teaching assistants, and teachers.”

Last week, Steve Hitchcock, the head teacher of St Peter’s C of E Primary School, in Budleigh Salterton, told the APEX news agency that there was nothing left to cut. The school was “constantly asking parents for money, constantly asking local groups, constantly trying to get money from any source”.

The school’s energy bills had doubled in the past six months, he said, while real-terms income had fallen by nine per cent in the past decade. Rising costs and diminishing income has left the catering budget £38,000 in arrears, and meant that the school was unable to give catering staff a pay rise in line with inflation.

As a result, Mr Hitchcock said, he had been forced to turn to his family to replace staff who had left.

“It is mission impossible,” he said. “What we’re expected to do with the resources we’ve got — the two don’t match. Staff are leaving to go work in supermarkets for better paid jobs, which means that it’s really hard to recruit.

“In particular at the moment getting cleaners and lunchtime staff is really tricky because the pay is low, so I had to ask my mum to come and volunteer as a lunchtime assistant, and I had to ask my sister if she’d come and do some cleaning to make sure we had enough staff to do that as well. I mean, that’s just crazy.”

Last week, the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, said that all government departments, including education, will be expected to make cuts as part of economic plans due to be revealed at the end of October.

The Revd Steve Chalke, who founded the Oasis Charitable Trust which runs 52 academies in England, told The Observer that he was “absolutely frustrated” by the news that the Government was proposing more cuts.

“At this burn rate, in under three years we will be bankrupt. No one is in a position to keep going for very long eating their reserves,” said Mr Chalke, who is the senior minister of Oasis Church, Waterloo, a Baptist church in south London.

Mr Chalke said that energy costs in his academies had more than tripled, despite the Government’s energy price cap.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “We understand that schools — much like wider society — are facing cost pressures due to international events driving up inflation and global energy prices, which is why all schools will benefit from the Energy Relief Scheme, capping how much schools need to spend on their energy and giving them greater certainty over their budgets over the winter months.

“We are supporting schools with £53.8 billion this year in core funding, which includes a cash increase of £4 billion and are also providing schools with tools to help them get the best value for money from their resources, including recommended deals for energy costs and services related to energy.”

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