BBC reports how a number of UK schools have taken the decision to move to a shorter working week because of funding shortages – and nowhere more so, it would appear, than in Birmingham. More than 20 schools in the city now plan to save money by sending children home at Friday lunchtime. Emma Jane Kirby visited one to learn more about the financial pressures they face.
It’s even more of a squash than usual in the Bellfield Junior School hall this morning and small, scuffed knees knock against each other as the children sit cross-legged on the herringbone parquet floor. For the first time in their academic life, year two infants have been given special dispensation to join junior assembly.
Come the new term in September, a cramped place on this floor will be rightfully theirs. But for now the children are rather cowed by their privilege, and for the most part they sit staring open-mouthed at head teacher Nigel Attwood – with the occasional furtive glance at the rows behind, in the hope of getting a reassuring nod or smile from an older brother or sister.
Few of the newbies are familiar with today’s assembly song and mouth along hopefully, while the seasoned older children belt out the words that appear on the projector screen. Mr Attwood patiently explains the format of junior assembly to his fresh intake and the greeting – “Good Morning Everyone!” – they must learn to use as responsible year threes. He expects sportsmanship, he tells them and a spirit of caring and kindness in his school.
A little boy in the front row chews the cuff of his blue jumper, thoughtfully. There’s an awful lot to take in. And in September, there will be fewer school hours in which to get it right. Because next term, in the hope of saving £50,000 a year, Bellfield Junior School will shorten its working week to just four-and-a-half days, closing its doors immediately after lunch every Friday.
“We can beat this poverty,” sing the juniors confidently, “and make people smile.”
In his office, head teacher Nigel Attwood laughs ironically when I ask him if he feels he’s more of a finance manager these days than a teacher. His early career was in sales and purchasing, he explains, a profession he quickly got out of because he loathed it.
“Some days it feels I’m back in sales again,” he says. “I am constantly balancing budgets. But what we do in this school makes a difference to children and the community and I want to carry on helping to make that difference.”