Parents are helping schools by paying for glue sticks and pens due to a funding crisis, headteachers have warned.
A letter sent to millions of families by more than 7,000 headteachers comes as the WorthLess? campaign group said its request to meet Education Secretary Damian Hinds has been rejected due to time pressures.
The Department for Education said school funding in England was “at its highest-ever level”.
— Worth Less (@WorthLessFF) March 8, 2019
Siobhan Lowe, head of Tolworth Girls’ School in Surbiton, Surrey, said she has been forced to clean the school, wash the toilets, serve in the canteen and can no longer afford a deputy headteacher.
Alex Bird, head of St Mary’s Church of England Primary School in Horsham, West Sussex, said “working conditions were atrocious” and he has had to cut the hours of support staff in a bid to make ends meet.
Mr Bird has appointed teachers to a lower grade on the pay scale than where they should be because he simply cannot afford to pay them more.
He said the cash raised by parents as part of the parent teacher association was “desperately needed” and money was so tight that parents had made cash contributions to the school.
“Beyond this, we also have an Amazon wishlist for parents to purchase individual items to help keep the school running as efficiently as possible,” he said.
“Since its launch we have had stationery items including glue sticks, string, Sellotape, maths resources, a bookcase, whiteboards, balance bikes and nativity costumes.”
Other schools in the area have set up similar Amazon lists.
Mr Bird said he had to pay to support the medical needs of children while applying for funding, which can take several terms to sort out.
He added: “We are in a very obvious recruitment crisis. Working conditions are atrocious.
“Why would anyone look to come into this career unless they wanted to do good with their lives? I know my team haven’t come into this job for the money.
“But teachers (and support staff’s) pay is definitely going to be a factor in recruitment and retention.
“They are worth more than their weight in gold – the support staff earning next to nothing for doing a remarkable and incredible job and yet it is them in the firing line every time headteachers have to look at cuts. It is simply depressing.”
Siobhan Lowe told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “I think what people need to understand is, as a headteacher you’re almost embarrassed that you can’t support the students in your school.
“It’s a terribly embarrassing thing to admit that you don’t have the money, because you need to provide an education for the students.
“But why am I embarrassed? It’s not my embarrassment that I don’t have the money, it’s due to the fact I’m not given the money to provide for the students in society.”
Very powerful testimony by the headteacher on @BBCr4today this morning highlighting the dreadful realities of funding cuts to schools. Also the additional cuts to local government and other services leaving many vulnerable children without any support. #schoolcuts
— Lucy Powell MP (@LucyMPowell) March 8, 2019
She said Mr Hinds had refused to meet her and other headteachers to address their concerns.
Ms Lowe added: “The parents are so supportive. I’m having to write to them on a regular basis and they are having to pay for things like printing, they are having to provide books for the students – they are writing in saying things, ‘I really wish we could help Mrs Lowe but we’re just about managing’.”
Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman later told the programme: “Schools are working certainly with less money than they had four or five years ago. It’s a really tough challenge for them adapting.”
She said that “being open and listening to what people are saying is something that is always valuable” when asked if the Education Secretary should meet headteachers.
Richard Bradford, headteacher of Dorothy Stringer school in Brighton, said headteachers had been told the Secretary of State’s time was “heavily pressurised” and “diaries need to be prioritised according to ministerial, Parliamentary and constituency business”.
Mr Bradford told the Brighton and Hove Independent: “We are dismayed that he has chosen to ignore our communications and repeated requests to meet.
“Given the seriousness of the current school funding crisis and the impact upon schools, children and families, head teacher colleagues and I, believe that this approach is entirely ill-judged.”
A report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) earlier this year found that almost a third of local authority-maintained secondary schools were in deficit, with one in 10 of them carrying deficits that represent more than 10% of their income.
It comes as Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley Jess Phillips tweeted about her son’s school having to close early on Fridays.
On Tuesday she wrote: “I’d like to once again invite @theresa_may to come to my constituency, if she could come on a Friday and pick my son up from school at 1pm as his school can’t afford to stay open. In fact I think I’ll leave him on the steps of @10DowningStreet.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “School funding in England is at its highest ever level, rising from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £43.5 billion by 2019-20.
“In addition, standards are rising; the attainment gap between disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers has narrowed since 2011, the proportion of pupils in good or outstanding schools has increased since 2010, and our primary school children have achieved their highest ever score on international reading tests.”
The Department said Mr Hinds meets unions, teachers and headteachers regularly.
Other ministers from the Department have met with campaigners from the WorthLess? campaign in recent months, it said.