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Headteacher issues bleak warning over cuts to schools funding

Cuts will lead to fewer teachers, increased class sizes and end of school trips, head warns

20 February, 2017 — By Tom Foot

John Dowd speaking at a meeting at Haverstock Secondary School last Thursday

CAMDEN’S longest-serving secondary school headteacher has warned that major education cuts could lead to the scrapping of sixth-form courses, axing school trips for disadvantaged kids, fewer staff and swelling class sizes.

John Dowd, who has been the head at Haverstock Secondary School in Chalk Farm for 17 years, delivered his bleak warning as union members and campaigners gathered to discuss how to deal with the slashed budgets facing Camden’s schools.

He said: “We have a trip to Spain each year – trips aboard are enormous and an educational experience for them. But those would have to be cut. We have community programmes – inter-generational work with elderly neighbours – that will have to stop. Then, there are really drastic cuts – reduction in education provision.”

Mr Dowd, who has been credited with turning the school in Haverstock Hill into a more attractive option for parents than it has ever been, added: “We’ve had class sizes of 30 – in the longterm that will increase.

“We have already had to decrease loss-leading courses in the sixth form: it’s art, it’s music. You do that and it makes a different culture in the sixth form, you get a different balance of students.

“I have seen how sixth forms become unviable as a result. We are looking at a different model to deal with the cuts.”

The problem is not unique to Haverstock School as all Camden’s primaries and secondaries are set to be hit by a government move to even out how schools are funded across the country.

Inner-city areas like Camden have traditionally seen more spending because of the number of disadvantaged children on their rolls, compared to more rural areas.

As the New Journal reported last month, the borough’s schools are also set lose an average of 2.8 per cent of their annual budgets, which across Camden translates into millions of pounds of lost funding.

Mr Dowd, who is planning to retire later this year, was speaking at a public meeting held at his school on Thursday evening. Organised by the National Union of Teachers, it was called with the aim of bringing together a campaign to fight the changes.

Haverstock had already lost £1.2million in funding over the past two years, Mr Dowd said, adding: “We are going to be looking at a very different model of provision – we are going to have to look at fundamentals.

“It is particularly damaging to communities like ours – it will affect student outcomes. The overall picture for the school is bleak, and we have to oppose it. If the cuts come in, as the NUT is predicting they will, we will have to stop summer schools completely.
“Seventy-two per cent of our students are disadvantaged, according to the free school meals criteria. We have to try and put in place opportunities for them.”

He said that rationing photocopying, and reducing cleaning and catering were likely but that more “drastic cuts” would follow with the likely loss of staff and provision for students with “additional needs” would be hit hard.
Mr Dowd said: “There are creative solutions. Some schools have asked parents for £50 to provide books and equipment – that is the kind of tactics they are reduced to.”

Parent campaigners and union chiefs at the meeting called on supporters to attend a national demonstration on March 8.

Former Camden School for Girls teacher Kevin Courtney, who is now general secretary of the NUT, said: “Whatever political party you voted for in the referendum or general election, I don’t think they voted for cuts to dance and drama. We hear those are not crucial subjects, but for some children, that’s what gets them up in the morning. You want the children to have access for these things for life.”

Mr Courtney said he hoped to inform parents so they can campaign against the cuts. He added that “ignorance was more expensive than education”.

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