A THOUSAND Oxfordshire school pupils could start leaving early on Fridays as their school battles 'enormous' budget pressures.

Wheatley Park School near Oxford, of which Theresa May is a former pupil, has proposed removing an hour-long period at the end of its Friday timetable.

The academy in Holton, which teaches 1,040 students, said the move would cut costs by reducing staffing requirements.

Also read: Two Oxfordshire primary schools branded 'inadequate' by Ofsted

A letter sent to parents said: "School budgets are under enormous pressure and our own is no exception.

"The school currently has some reserves but will quickly tip into deficit unless we can find further ways to reduce costs significantly.

"Reducing the school week by one period would mean fewer lessons would need to be taught overall, which in turn would mean fewer teachers would be needed to staff the school."

Witney Gazette:

The proposal would come into force from September if confirmed.

Lunchtime would be brought forward about an hour, then students would go home at 2pm instead of 3pm.

Although pupils would leave earlier, some staff would stay to work on collaborative lesson planning and curriculum development.

Also read: More Oxfordshire schools become academies amid funding crisis

The letter added: "Parents and carers might be rightly concerned that having 24 instead of 25 lessons a week would be detrimental to children's education.

"However, the school would seek to minimise any negative impact on students' learning by protecting lessons in the core subjects.

"We anticipate that more collaborative planning amongst staff would increase the quality of lessons, offsetting the reduction in quantity."

The letter, from the school's headteacher Tim Martin, below, and chair of governors Philip Baillieu, said alternative measures had been considered, including removing subjects, creating bigger classes or asking parents for donations.

Witney Gazette:

The school has consulted with present and future pupils and parents, staff and the River Learning Trust, which runs Wheatley Park, and a final decision is expected imminently.

The trust, which runs Oxford's Cherwell School and a host of others in the area, is also opening the city's new Swan School.

Wheatley Park head Mr Martin was among headteachers who marched in a London protest last year, lobbying for more school funding.

He said: "It's our genuine belief that this option has the least impact on students' learning.

"Schools up and down the country are having to make very difficult decisions in the current financial climate – it's our view that [the government] not investing in education is a short-term outlook."

Also read: Rural primary school to cut staff to cope with cash pressures

Didcot Girls' School and neighbouring St Birinus School already finish early on Fridays, and Mr Martin cited these as good examples of schools where the system works.

He added that Wheatley Park used to finish half an hour early two days a week.

The school is not alone in contacting parents about funding struggles.

On Friday, headteachers of 17 partnered schools in West Oxfordshire, including Henry Box and Wood Green, sent a letter urging parents to contact their MP about funding.

Witney Gazette:

They said: "The past decade has seen a real terms cut to the funding [education services] receive.

"The UK statistics network has scolded the government for headlines that mask the whole picture.

"Schools are being expected to do significantly more, with more children, with significantly less."

The heads said the 'regrettable' next step would be to make cuts in the staffing budget, which is any school's biggest expenditure.

Also read: More Oxfordshire schools ask parents for funding help

Earlier this month John Howell, whose constituency covers Wheatley, presented a petition in Parliament calling for a school funding review.

He told the House of Commons: "I am concerned about the gap between the enormous figures that are increasingly being put into education and what is actually happening on the ground in schools."

The Henley MP set up a meeting on Wednesday between Catharine Darnton, headteacher of Gillotts School in Henley, and the schools standards minister Nick Gibb.

Mr Howell told the Oxford Mail the meeting was 'very positive.'

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He backed the government's objective to move away from the current 'soft' funding formula, through which it hands cash to local authorities to distribute, to a hard formula, which will give cash directly to schools.

It is currently in the process of this transition, and Mr Howell was confident this will make the process fairer.

He said: "At a national level we are putting in more money than ever into education, but at a local level it's difficult to see that money coming in.

"We want money to flow properly to schools and we are keen to ensure that happens."