A Headteacher Writes

Thomas Jones

Dennis O'Sullivan, the headteacher of a secondary school in Hertfordshire, has written an open letter to David Cameron setting out the funding crisis facing schools in England and Wales: 'a school like mine needs to find £500,000 in savings on an income of just under £6,000,000 in each of the next three years.' This is because:

• Your government cut 16% off our 6th form funding (around £500 per student) at a time when you said education funding was “ring-fenced.”
• We have to put an extra 2.38% into teachers’ pensions.
• The government has taken away a National Insurance rebate of 3.4% and looks likely to award the 1.3 million school employees a 1 or 2% unfunded pay rise.
• This adds up to a 7.26% increase in our wage costs and wages makes up around 80% of school spending.
• The Institute for Fiscal Studies shows a 12% cut in funding during your second term.

O'Sullivan goes on to list the ways in which his school might be able to meet those cuts:

• If we cut half our office staff we could save £160,000
• stopped all spending on our school library and dismissed the librarian £35,000
• reduced our caretaking staff to one person £23,000
• and stopped cleaning the toilets so often £7500
• saved 50% on our gas and electricity bills £45,000
• stopped absolutely all staff training £27,933
• sacked 7 teaching assistants £200,000

We would save the £500,000.

The following year, in our dark, smelly, cold school, we could cut all building and grounds maintenance and cleaning; cut all individual support in English and Maths and abandon all extra curricular activities. We will need to sack 6 teachers and would have saved the £500,000. Class sizes will increase to 35 in many lessons. Teachers will teach 5% more lessons.

In Year 3 we find £500,000 by dismissing 10 heads of department and a deputy headteacher. Class size is now over 40 everywhere and we have unqualified, cheaper, staff “teaching” all core subjects.

In a letter to the LRB defending the government's education policy, and in particular 'the reforms initiated by Michael Gove', Toby Young said that 'education reform is and always has been a moral crusade.' Because those always turn out so well.


  • 25 May 2015 at 9:26pm
    Mark Brady says:
    Is Dennis O'Sullivan saying that central government is requiring him to cut £500,000 the first year, £1,000,000 the second year, and £1,500,000 the third year. That seems to be the only way to make sense of his post.

    • 25 May 2015 at 11:09pm
      gabrielb says: @ Mark Brady
      You posted essentially the same question on Dennis O'Sullivan's blog at 1421h this afternoon, and he responded to you directly within 15 minutes.

      To clarify - it's £500k in year 1, another £500k in year 2, and a further £500k in year 3. Cumulative total is savings of £1.5m (round figures).

    • 25 May 2015 at 11:38pm
      Amateur Emigrant says: @ Mark Brady
      In the first paragraph he says ‘a school like mine needs to find £500,000 in savings on an income of just under £6,000,000 in each of the next three years.’ That seems to make sense of the rest of his post to me.

    • 26 May 2015 at 11:14am
      Rikkeh says: @ Amateur Emigrant
      Your cumulative total of savings over the three years isn't £1.5m approx. It's £3m.

      Going off his escalation of cuts, you save £0.5m in year 1, £1m in year 2 and £1.5m in year 3.

      Also, applying the cuts cumulatively (i.e. not just doing one of the three things he's doing each year, or just applying one set of cuts) brings your yearly spending down by a whopping 25%.

      Cutting the budget of anything (even the most moribund inefficient instituion ever- which schools aren't but let's pretend for the sake of argument that they are) by 25% over just three years is always going to cause a noticable drop in quality. If that's what's being proposed, why doesn't he just say so up front? It's easily recognisable as a stupid thing to do.

    • 26 May 2015 at 11:24am
      James Alexander says: @ gabrielb
      This is getting messy, as blogging and commenting so often does.

      Some of us (Mark Brady for one) seem to think that Thomas Jones's post is by O'Sullivan. It isn't, and it makes a difference. Jones's post compresses just part of O'Sullivan's letter, the whole of which is much more interesting than what is precised here,and is even more cogently condemnatory of Government than might appear here. Correctly so, in my personal view. And equally interesting, O'Sullivan is an academy head.

      gabrileb helpfully (though linklessly) refers us to O'Sullivan's blog (it's at, where you can see the letter. But O'Sullivan's reply to Brady's 'same question' does not, as gabrielb seems to suggest, really answer Brady's question, does not altogether say what gabrielb says. Rather it seems to allege that there is a putative £500,000 extra cost to the school in the each of the two succeeding years from the first, from knock-on effects of the one first cut. Could be true for all I know, though it seems a lot. Brady has since asked O'Sullivan to further clarify that first reply, and perhaps he will.

      Brady's questions are valid, and as yet not clearly answered.

      However, Jones' general suggestion, that the schools are getting a right-royal shafting under cover of the rhetoric of ring-fenced education budgets, does appear correct, and it would be a pity to see it smothered by demands for clarification of detail. Fellow LRB blog readers, I urge you to read the letter itself. Again -

    • 26 May 2015 at 1:54pm
      Alan Benfield says: @ James Alexander
      I must agree with James: the cuts in the first year are mostly repeating costs (salaries, energy, maintenance) and the same saving will be made the next year simply by maintaining the status quo. Total cut: £500,000 per year, or £1,500,000 over the three years. He seems to confirm this in the reply to Brady: "The cumulative effect will add up over those three years to (approximately) £1.5million".

      However, he also says: "However, income reduces and wages become an ever greater part of our expenditure. We will need a further £500,000 savings in year two and a further series of cuts in Year three."

      Confused and confusing. Why will income reduce? As far as I can see, he will not need to make further cuts, just maintain the same cuts (i.e. continue the same measures as before).

      Whatever he means, his school will not be in a good place...

    • 26 May 2015 at 3:56pm
      Mark Brady says: @ Rikkeh
      The "cumulative total of savings after the three years" is £1.5m in the third year out of an annual income of £6m. The "cumulative total of savings over the three years" is £3m out of a cumulative income of £18m. In each case it is a "whopping 25%".

    • 26 May 2015 at 4:07pm
      Mark Brady says: @ Mark Brady
      A student came by (blame the student, eh?) and I inadvertently submitted the comment before I previewed it. The "cumulative total of savings over the three years" is £3m out of a cumulative income of £18m, i.e., a not-quite-so-whopping 17%.

    • 27 May 2015 at 1:35pm
      Rikkeh says: @ Mark Brady
      Note that I said "yearly spending" in my third paragraph. Year-on-year spending does go down by 25% if you're cutting £1.5m out of £6m p.a.

      Cumulatively, yes it is 17%. But that's probably the less relevant figure.

  • 25 May 2015 at 10:48pm
    JWA says:
    If they expelled the bottom 10% of the students and correspondingly sacked 10% of worst performing staff they'd sail through. This would simultaneously engender the spirit of competition and knowledge of corporate efficiency much beloved by Tory high command - while delivering a suitable incentive to underachievers to reconsider their outlook, while also freeing them up for early entry into the job market. They'd even have enough cash left over to buy the top student a set of steak knives. Win win win win win. I'm sure I read all of this in one of Toby Young's columns.

    • 2 June 2015 at 8:08pm
      Adam_Morris says: @ JWA
      I sincerely hope you’re being ironic, as these cuts affect every state school in the country.

  • 26 May 2015 at 1:42am
    Mark Brady says:
    If that were true, why not just continue the cuts in the first year in subsequent years. If the central government is requiring him to find £500,000 in NEW cuts in each of three years, it would suggest that he would be spending £4,500,000 by the end of the third year. Is that what he means?

  • 26 May 2015 at 2:25pm
    stosullivand says:
    I am the headteacher author of the letter "Dear Mr Cameron" available in full on The News Hub or Google Blogger.
    Firstly, thanks for reading the piece and for considering its content. It has been widely circulated and, as a sample of how seriously headteachers are taking the financial crisis, Heads in Herts are lobbying our MPs on July 1st.
    Here's our budget figures in summary:
    2015- 16 Income £5,983,287 Expenditure £6,073,382 giving a deficit of £90.096 for which I have found savings.
    2016-17 Income £5,594,640 Expenditure £6,264,899
    Income down due to cuts in 6th Form funding of 11% and ESG grant reduced.
    Expenditure up for NI, Pension, unfunded pay rise and some salary progression under govt performance management.
    2017-18 Income £5,469,228 Expenditure £6,489,756
    Expenditure includes a predicted small inflationary rise in non staff costs, which Mr Cameron has said will not be covered by central funding.
    I simplified the figures for the original piece.
    I could write more but the essence is in the excerpt under discussion.
    Dennis O'Sullivan
    google Dennis O'Sullivan Headlines

    • 27 May 2015 at 1:40pm
      Rikkeh says: @ stosullivand
      Thank you for drawing attention to the stark and scarily widening deficit that your forecasts show.

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