WHEN multi-millionaire Paul Rowlett went undercover as a support worker as a local high school, he had no idea he would find students were being taught in freezing classrooms with crumbling walls.
But while spending 18 days at Haileybury Turnford Comprehensive, in Cheshunt, Herts, for the Channel 4 show, Secret Teacher, he saw first hand the reality of life in Britain’s underfunded schools.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to provide an extra £4.6bn for schools by 2022.
Paul Rowlett, 38, left school with just one GCSE, joined the Royal Navy and served in the Iraq War. In 2003 he fell on hard times, became homeless and was living on benefits.
Now, Paul’s global company – which produces royal mugs and other merchandise – employs 140 people in offices in Leicester and Las Vegas, and this year, will have a turnover of £28 million.
Seeing the reality of life in British schools, he donates £40,000 to refurbish the building.
Here, Paul tells Sun Online about what he saw.
‘What I saw was so sad’
Paul says: “During my 18 days spent working as a member of support staff at Haileybury Turnford, I saw and heard plenty of things that saddened me.
Probably the most shocking was when I encountered an English class of 60 children and one teacher.
The school had lost a teacher right at the beginning of term, and it was the only solution for the time being.
It was more of a lesson in crowd control than Shakespeare, with the pupils at the back messing around on their phones and the teacher struggling to stop them chatting.
Taught in cold, damp and mouldy classrooms
British pupils are being taught in classrooms covered in damp and mould in schools that are rapidly running out of space thanks to a lack of funding.
A survey by the NASUWT teching union found that almost three in five teachers have witnesses a physical deterioration of the school buildings they work in from 2017 to 2018.
It also found that some children are having to wear coats in lessons to keep warm, while others are forced to work on the floor where there are simply not enough chairs or desks.
Seven in 10 teachers admitted to finding leaks, damp or mould around the school, with half admitting it had crept into their classrooms.
Meanwhile, a fifth of teachers say that students have had to be taught in temporary learning spaces – such as portacabins – to cope with a growing number of pupils.
When the sixth form students left in the summer, one of the teachers set about ripping the used pages out of text books, where the pupils had made their notes, in order to re-use them for another year.
The building itself is crumbling, some of it should probably be condemned.
It was built in the 1970s and all the windows have metal frames. It means that when it’s hot outside, it’s boiling inside, and when it’s cold outside, it’s freezing inside.
Those are not good working conditions for anyone.
You wouldn’t expect to walk into any office in the country and have to put up with feeling uncomfortable during your working hours.
School funding breakdown
Data collected by union The School Cuts coalition found that 91% of school have had their pupil funding cut – and a total of £5.4 billion has been lost by schools since 2015.
Their analysis, based on government figures for school funding from 2015 to 2016 and 2018 to 2019, warned that school budgets are at ‘absolute breakingpoint’ – with many already operating with reduced stagging and fewer curriculum choices.
The Education Services Grant (ESG), which funds spending on school improvement and management of school buildings was cut by £200 million in 2015-16, with further cuts of £600 million between 2016-17 and more expected from 2019-20.
‘There’s no money for tea or coffee’
In the staff room, teachers have to bring their own tea and coffee because they prefer not to use precious school funds on their own refreshments.
But as Richard Branson says, you’ve got to look after your staff first, then your customers.
If your sanctuary is a room furnished with ripped sofas and you’re bringing your own tea bags, that is going to affect morale.
So too is the fact the school has no money to give teachers a pay rise when they are promoted.
As a businessman, I know how important it is to value your staff. If they are treated well, they will work harder and remain loyal.
And retaining staff is another problem the school struggles with – partly because it is so close to London, where teachers can benefit from higher wages thanks to London weighting.
I can’t imagine many teachers would turn up to this decrepit building and feel very enthusiastic about working there.
‘Schools should have a business manager’
The same goes for prospective parents, and at the end of the day, a school is a business. It receives money per pupil, so it needs to attract those parents.
Government funding cuts have put a huge pressure on our schools. It has never been tougher for schools as it is now.
But one way forward would be for every school to have a full-time business manager.
Some schools already have this post, including Haileybury Turnford, and I understand academies are run more like businesses.
It might cost £35,000 a year, but I guarantee the school would save that amount and more.
Headteachers are spending so much time managing their businesses, yet that’s not their background.
Concentrating on the money side also means they have less time to devote to the pupils and staff welfare.
A business manager would be able to devote their time solely to managing the budget.
For example, I was shown some of the stationery catalogues the school orders from, and I was astonished at how much money might be wasted simply because no one has the time to shop around for the best deals.
‘Passionate teachers need support’
If it were my business, I would also look into how to monetise the school.
It would be controversial, but why not rent out some of the rooms or the grounds at times when they are not being used?
By redistributing funds and gaining extra income, there would be more money for things like educational trips, and those can really make a difference in inspiring pupils who might be disengaged in the classroom.
The money can even go towards providing extra lessons for those who are struggling.
Despite the problems, I saw so much positivity at the school and that’s all down to the teachers.
I know I could never be one, I’m not patient enough.
Teachers who are passionate and work all the hours marking and preparing lessons are invaluable. Any subject can be engaging with the right teacher. But they desperately need more support.”
Failing to meet the minimum
It comes as no surprise that CEOs like Paul find flaws in the education system, as this year it was revealed that more than 380 schools failed to meet the Government’s minimum standards.
The figures, released by the Department of Education, suggested that 382 mainstream state-funded schools are under-performing – and three in five schools crumbling under mould and damp.
Like, Haileybury Turnford, West Midlands school King’s Church of England, hit the headlines last year after budget shortages left them with 14 staff cut and 300 holes in the roof.
James Ludlow, the head teacher, admitted he had cancelled music lessons and art events because of the huge risks to children when it rained, as water poured through the ceiling and corridors.
Pupils at the Perth Academy in Scotland have also felt the budget cuts – having to attend classes armed with hot water bottles because classrooms are too cold, and the heating does not work.
Similarly, the headteacher of Gillotts secondary school in Henley-on-Thames stepped up to reveal a mix of damp and chemicals, which clogs children’s throats, left a classroom unusable.
The 900-strong state school is one of thousands using buckets to catch drips that remain unfixed, and making repairs that could have been avoided if they could afford preventative measures.
Aware of the shocking reality facing Britain’s schools, Boris Johnson pledged to ‘level up’ funding, saying: “That is the work that begins immediately behind that black door.”
The Secret Teacher starts on Thursday 8th August at 9pm on Channel 4.