Teachers are acting as social workers, family support workers, mental health practitioners, speech and language therapists, and even the police because of crippling cuts.
Two headteachers shared a snapshot of a working week, giving an insight into how staff are being forced to pick up the pieces left by funding cuts of 8% per pupil since 2010 and chronic staffing shortages.
It paints a picture of staff under extreme pressure to provide an education and support to children in a system that, as one explains, is “fracturing and breaking”.
In the Queen’s Speech yesterday Boris Johnson promised an increase in funding per pupil but it comes after nearly a decade of underfunding where real-terms spending has dropped by £7.7billion, from £95.5billion in 2011/12 to £87.8billion.
Unprecedented cuts to council funding has forced schools to slash support and funding for children with special needs and on Education, Health and Care Plans.
There are 8,500 children with special needs who do not have a school place as support services are not there. Permanent exclusions have reached the highest point in nearly a decade after a rise in assaults, bullying, drugs and alcohol. Unions blame cuts to children’s services for making it harder to provide early intervention.
One in three teachers have fed hungry children in class or bought them food, a YouGov poll found.
Teachers have spent their own cash on clothes and food at Abbey Hey Primary Academy, Gorton, Manchester, which even has a foodbank.
At Tittensor First School in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs, head Emily Proffitt told recently how she had to act as a caretaker, builder, dinner lady and gardener, and a head in Redcar, North Yorks, said he uses his salary to pay for school trips.
Pressure and poor pay has contributed to the worst staffing crisis in decades, with nearly one in three teachers leaving the job within five years of qualifying.
Protest group Save our Schools said a boost of £7.1billion by 2022-23, announced by Prime Minister Johnson in the summer and starting in 2021, would not even meet 2010 levels.
Analysis by unions shows more than 80% of schools will have less cash per pupil in real terms in 2020 than in 2015.
Kate Taylor, of SOS, said teachers try to plug the gaps, adding: “Teachers are trying to provide this expertise, with no training, while working under immense pressure.”
Jules White, leader of the Worth Less? campaign for fairer funding, said: “Headteachers are really worried about having enough teachers and assistants to do our jobs properly.
“There is a rising tide of Special Educational Needs and Disability, behaviour and mental health challenges that need to be addressed and these issues cannot be solved by schools alone.
“We have begun to see each party acknowledging the major problems that schools face. We now want to see how politicians’ warm words will be turned into meaningful, long-term actions.”
UNISON said: “The Government has dismantled services, leaving schools as the only hope for many.”
And Chris Keates, of teachers’ union NASUWT, said: “Teachers’ commitment has been exploited for far too long.”
A teacher's diary 1, headteacher Ian Read, Watercliffe Meadow Primary School, Sheffield
Four staff phone in sick. They have the flu, which is also having a devastating effect on our attendance. It’s stressful as we just can’t afford supply teachers.
We managed to get other staff to cover classes but it isn’t ideal.
I think we’ve lost three staff as a result of the additional workload teachers have to put up with.
I worry massively about the long-term implications of cuts and workload.
If we carry on like this, staff will burn out and leave the profession.
I start with our weekly safeguarding meeting, where we talk about children getting some level of social care or support – 57 of our 550 pupils.
After the meeting I pop into our Breakfast club. It has doubled in size since we opened it and today we feed almost 130 people – and often more. If we didn’t run it, kids would go hungry.
A few years ago we used to help the occasional family access our local foodbank, now we are offering food parcels to families on a weekly basis.
Then there’s the free sanitary towels we put in the toilets for parents and pupils who can’t afford them. Staff buy these and can’t keep up with demand.
I go on a home visit for a child who has been out of school for more than 18 months.
They have been diagnosed with autism and attention deficit disorder, and live with a single parent and two siblings who have even more pronounced SEN issues.
As they have been allocated a place with us we will do all we can for them.
But I can’t afford more support staff. Do I take away a member of staff from the children with extra needs she currently supports, to give this new pupil the level of attention they are likely to need? Or do I hope the attention she can spare is enough?
We still have three teachers and an assistant off sick and can’t cover the gaps ourselves any more.
I have to spend what little money we do have on supply teachers. Without the efforts of staff, this week would’ve cost us more than £2,000 in supply costs. Teachers have gone without breaks and taken additional work home as they were unable to do it in the day.
I spoke to one teacher who has been ill all week and clearly should not be in school. But he knew the impact his absence would have on his class and on the other staff covering for him.
It’s nearly the weekend and I’ve worked more than 70 hours. It’s becoming typical. Looking around, I can see my staff are exhausted too.
Today I found out that at least three teachers have bought laminators this year as the person who used to do most of this job in school was made redundant. They laminate school worksheets at home.
Every day we do things that go beyond the traditional job of teaching to maintain standards while resources and capacity is cut. This pressure on staff is not sustainable.
A teacher's diary 2, by Diana Worthington, headteacher, Moorside Primary School, Halifax, West Yorkshire
Today I had to exclude a pupil for a physical assault on another pupil. It’s frustrating to admit this is increasingly a regular occurrence.
Every time this happens it reminds me some of our most troubled pupils are being let down by the system. There is a lack of support for schools with mental health and family issues.
We cannot put them on waiting lists, therefore we have to try managing the situation ourselves. It feels like we are not only educators but social workers, family support workers, mental health practitioners, speech and language therapists, sometimes even the police.
I went on a home visit to a family whose child has not come to school. Through home visits, I often see families living in extreme poverty. No carpets, bare walls, just mattresses on the floor.
It can be shocking but it’s also really sad to see how families are being let down by public services who have no resources. At this time of year especially, many families’ monies are spent on heating and lighting their houses and then they apologise for their child having no dinner money or not being able to replace a uniform.
While my school does everything it can to support these children, we cannot be expected to be experts in all these areas. Essentially we are fielding the funding cuts of all the other agencies – something that has to be put right.
We had a meeting to thank support staff for their hard work. Talk turned to the budget and I had to update them on the challenge the school faces. There is concern that after the next three years we will no longer be financially viable. We are looking at linking with other schools to pool resources. The staff asked if redundancies were a possibility. It was a tough conversation to have.
It’s 8.45am and I am dealing with a child who refuses to come to school. I spend 25 minutes talking to this child and their parent. The same reasons seem to come up a lot in these cases.
I’ve seen children not wanting to come in over a fall-out with friends. More and more older children are falling out while playing online games in the evenings. By the next morning they don’t want to face school. I then spend the next half-hour trying to reintegrate them. I am spending more and more time trying to support pupils who should get help from public services.
I take the kids to the local museum. I may be the head but I have to drive the minibus. We only have a few minibus drivers as it is a significant cost to train the staff. It’s no surprise we can’t afford a coach driver for the day.
It’s always great to see how worthwhile these trips are. But as finances get tighter I worry they will have to be cut down and we may have to say goodbye to them altogether. It’s a sad thought.
Kind staff spending own money on gifts for kids
Teachers at a school so badly hit by Tory cuts that it has considered closing every other Friday are shelling out £50 of their own money on food and gifts for students.
Royal Wootton Bassett Academy in Wiltshire, where 14% of pupils are classed as underprivileged, is overrun with requests from kids and parents on the breadline.
Generous staff have given presents, food parcels, foodbank vouchers, Christmas trees and decorations. Headteacher George Croxford said: “We’ve had parents and kids welling up with tears when we’ve dropped off parcels.
“It is an absolute tragedy this is going on all over the country. It is really dire and very hard for all concerned.”
The academy, for pupils aged 11-18, is struggling – staff numbers have shrunk by up to half in some departments and cuts mean it is losing its parent support adviser, who identifies vulnerable children.
The National Education Union estimates that by April 16,523 schools will have seen cuts of up to £509 per pupil in the past five years.
Mr Croxford added: “There is only so much you can cut.”
Hampers give a Christmas lesson in compassion
A principal is helping to give more than 100 Christmas hampers to families in need.
Matthew Tate raised over £5,000 after launching an appeal to help the poorest in his community.
The head at Hartsdown Academy, in Thanet, Kent, said: “We’re working in one of the most deprived areas
of the country – with 189 school-age children homeless in our area.
“We know parents who are choosing between food and heating this Christmas and aren’t able to give their kids what they want – despite working 12-hour shifts.
“I want people to know that they are loved and people care.”