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Hillmead head speaks out as funding crisis looms for Bishop's Stortford school

Hillmead Primary School, Bishops Stortford. l-r: PTA Chair Zoe Blackery, Head teacher Michelle Shenston, PTA Treasurer Jane Wilkins..Pic: Vikki Lince. (12899681)
Hillmead Primary School, Bishops Stortford. l-r: PTA Chair Zoe Blackery, Head teacher Michelle Shenston, PTA Treasurer Jane Wilkins..Pic: Vikki Lince. (12899681)

Parents are putting the finishing touches to preparations for Hillmead's Hillfest this week as the primary faces a funding crisis.

Previously the mini-festival paid for extras for the school's 290 students, but this year the parent-teacher association and head Michelle Shenston have made it clear the cash raised on Saturday will increasingly finance essentials at the Woburn Avenue campus.

Hillmead gets just over a £1m from Hertfordshire County Council to pay all its bills, including wages for 25 staff including 12 teachers.

Mrs Shenston has been in charge for four years and said: "It's significantly less than when I took over."

While extra expenses like pension contributions and living wage increases have been guaranteed for this year, she said there had been no assurances from the government on extra cash in the future. Sports premium funding for PE provision is also set to end in 2020, leaving an £18k gap for Hillmead to plug.

Cuts have already been made with the loss of a PE apprentice and fewer opportunities to study instruments in the music room the school converted from a PE store.

Mrs Shenston said: "I did not come into this job to budget, I came into this job to help children.

"My time is taken up doing business management".

The PTA began fundraising to pay for extras like a Christmas present for each child and transport for school trips but increasingly proceeds of events go to essentials like iPads for staff to use in classrooms and online subscriptions to plan lessons.

Chairwoman Zoe Blackery, mum to Daisy in Year 6 and Milly in Year 7, said: "We have realised as a PTA that our fundraising focus has massively changed. The funding for our school is no longer for the extra bits - it's for school essentials! It's not just coaches to swimming and trips to Boydell's Farm anymore. It's for essential educational equipment and teaching resources.

"It's almost a crisis."

Treasurer Jane Willans, mum to Sebastian in Year 1 and Freya in Year 4, said the PTA, which is registered as a charity to maximise returns, raised £11,000 last year. She has to approach fundraising like a full-time job while recognising some families are financially strapped and struggling to find extra cash. Part of her remit is establishing partnerships with businesses to boost the budget.

While their focus is Hillmead, the women were clear that the issues they face are common to schools across Bishop's Stortford and parents need to apply political pressure for better support.

Bidding for extra funding from Herts County Council for children with special educational needs is so "lengthy" that Mrs Shenston said there were two pupils the school was supporting this year out of its limited budget "because it's the right thing to do".

Hillmead has students who speak 17 other languages and for some English is not their first language so they too need extra support.

Mrs Shenston said: "From our point of view as a school, we are not asking for money to be reckless with. We just want to do the best for our children. The support of the PTA is invaluable."

*Hillfest, from 3pm to 9pm on Saturday, June 29, will feature live music from Jurdine and the Kicks, Tom Dulieu, Holly Rose, La Dolce Vita, Cider at Yours and the Bishop's Stortford Ukulele Society. There will also be inflatables, a gin bar, beer tent, Secret Sausage Shop bangers, animals and tarot reading.

To book tickets, see www.pta-events.co.uk/hillmeadpta

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