Blackpool schools' funding cuts puts scores of jobs at risk

Andy Mellor, headteacher at St Nicholas Church of England Primary School in Marton
Andy Mellor, headteacher at St Nicholas Church of England Primary School in Marton
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Scores of jobs are under threat at schools across Blackpool, which a union claimed could cost people their homes.

Days after the Department for Education disputed claims that Fylde coast schools face losing funding worth more than £5m, the true impact of budget cuts can be revealed.

South Shore Academy

South Shore Academy

The Fylde Coast Academy Trust (FCAT), which runs a number of schools in the area, is cutting three roles between Westminster Primary Academy and Unity Academy’s nursery, both in North Shore. Six people have taken voluntary redundancy at South Shore Academy. And six business support staff have been hit by a ‘restructure’ at Highfield Leadership Academy, also in South Shore.

Dave Dickinson, local branch secretary for the union Unison, said: “The impact of central government cuts, but also the consequences of the academisation agenda, have been catastrophic. Government cuts to education are now well-known but the transformation of schools – to the point where 75 per cent are now academies – has also led to the fragmentation of education.

“The reduction in the number of support staff across the town has been dramatic. Cuts in funding have disproportionately affected teaching assistants, cleaners, welfare staff, pastoral workers, technicians, and cover supervisors. Not only does it impact on support staff in terms of the large numbers of redundancies, but also in reductions in pay but, for children, the reduced support has a significant impact on their learning and other support they need. Parents will be rightly angry at the consequences of these cuts.”

WHAT IS FCAT SAYING?

Westminster Primary Academy. Pictured is principal Roger Farley

Westminster Primary Academy. Pictured is principal Roger Farley

In a statement, chief executive officer Tony Nicholson said: “To re-structure the staff of any school comes at the very end of a range of efforts that have been considered when reviewing a school budget for the ensuing year.

“All our schools must operate within their budget to avoid a deficit. Media coverage this year has shown clearly that there are significant ongoing constraints affecting school budgets, brought about through wage inflation, National Insurance changes for the public sector and increases to staff pension contributions.

“In any re-structuring process, the main priority of the Fylde Coast Academy Trust is to preserve employment for our staff as far as possible.

“With the opening of Armfield Academy and Gateway Academy as growing schools, this provides opportunities to redeploy our staff into jobs within the trust’s family of schools so that we do not lose valued and hard-working colleagues.”

WHAT ARE THE REASONS?

Unison blamed job losses – with a number across several schools in previous years too – on government cuts, academisation, and a fall in pupil numbers.

Andy Mellor, headteacher at St Nicholas’ Church of England Primary School in Marton, said financial pressures left him with heart-breaking choices to make.

Mr Mellor, also president of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT), said he had taken the school from requiring improvement in the eyes of Ofsted to an outstanding rating during his 15 years in charge.

But he warned: “Now I face the heart-breaking and perverse task of having to break that team up because I don’t have the funds to pay everyone.

“Without sufficient funding, all of the aspirations we have for our schools, our staff and our students will be held back.

“Nationally, eight out of 10 schools is rated good or outstanding by Ofsted.

“We must not allow under-funding of state education to break up the thousands of successful staff teams who have made this happen. If we do, we will be putting future standards at serious risk.”

His comments were echoed by Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden, who warned of the threat of continuing cuts from government after Education Secretary Damian Hinds failed to repeat a previous guarantee in Parliament that no school would see its funding cut.

But the unions’ figures show Blackpool schools face losing £1.4m by 2020. Fylde and Wyre are even worse hit, with losses of £1.7m and £2.3m respectively.

Mr Marsden, who is also a shadow education minister, said: “The latest data from the teaching unions’ School Cuts website indicates 13 out of the 18 schools across Blackpool South have had their budgets cut - despite the Tories’ previous pledge to protect school budgets at last year’s election.”

He said schools in his constituency can expect to lose almost £500,000 by 2020, compared to 2015.

He added: “Teachers across Blackpool have every reason to be worried about the continuing cuts they are experiencing in school budgets and resources. St Nicholas school in the south of my constituency stands to lose £75,470 between 2015 and 2020 - that works out at a £192 cut per pupil.

“Near the town centre, St Kentigern’s school is expected to lose £26,584, which works out at a £128 cut per pupil. Despite admitting that school funding is tight’, Theresa May’s ministers have not come good on the concerns of teaching staff or parents.

“They claim they’ve increased overall funding, but when you look at the figures per pupil for most of our schools, it’s quite clear they’ve had a significant cut.”

He said Government funding claims have been rebuked by independent experts, including the UK Statistics Authority.

Mr Marsden added that action was needed to avoid the continued haemorrhaging of teaching staff’.

But a spokesman for the Department for Education said the union figures were wrong and schools would get more funding under the new formula.

The spokesman said: “The union’s figures are fundamentally misleading. There is more money going into our schools than ever before. No school in Blackpool will lose funding. In fact, schools in the area will attract an increase in funding of 5.8 per cent - equivalent to £4.5m - when the formula is implemented in full.

“As a result of our fairer formula, by 2020, core funding will rise to a record £43.5bn - the highest ever and 50 per cent more per pupil in real terms than in 2000.”

Unity Academy’s Nursery, Warbreck Hill Road, North Shore

A consultation was launched within the nursery, which is currently rated ‘outstanding’ – Ofsted’s top possible rank – with one member of staff told their role is set to be ‘removed’. Individual consultations were being held, but none of the workers face redundancy. They fear pay cuts as their hours and weeks are reduced, however.

The academy is also run by FCAT.

Neil Adams, assistant branch secretary at Unison, said: “Our members in the nursery have been informed they are to be consulted shortly on changes to the nursery provision.

“They have been assured by the school that no redundancies will be included in the proposals. However, they are understandably worried for their futures and livelihoods. Unison is supporting them with the aim of mitigating any impact.”

Westminster Primary Academy and Children’s Centre, Westminster Road, North Shore

The number of support staff is being reduced from seven to five, with the remaining workers likely to be told their hours – and weeks – will be reduced.

Mr Dickinson said: “The impact is enough for some to potentially lose their homes, and they are justifiably angry and upset. Unison strongly believes these cuts will not only affect staff, but the children they are dedicated to supporting.”

The school was called Claremont Community Primary School until FCAT took over last September. It was given a new name, uniform, and headteacher.

One parent, whose child is in need of extra support, said: “On the face of it, they are just losing two members of staff, but they are losing a third of their support team. It has wider implications. I don’t think they will have enough resources within the school to carry on providing that one-to-one support that the children need.

“There’s quite a lot of children in there with special educational needs, and I think this will affect their education. It’s always people at the bottom of the pile that get cut. The people at the top are sat there rubbing their hands together.”

Highfield Leadership Academy, Highfield Road, South Shore

Unison said there had been three restructures in three years, and two since the Tauheedul Education Trust (TET) took over. “The most recent one is likely to have up to 10 redundancies,” Mr Dickinson said. “Along with redundancies, there are some who will see a significant drop in income.”

A spokeswoman for TET said: “A restructure has taken place at Highfield Leadership Academy to ensure the academy’s operating model continues to remain fit for purpose.

“Six members of the business support team were affected. We have provided support to the staff in question, and are making efforts to redeploy them in other trust schools.”

South Shore Academy, St Annes Road, South Shore

Unison said there is a ‘significant restructure involving the majority of support staff’. “The last issues have been settled but there are about five redundancies and at least one person has seen their grade fall from their former job to the new one,” Mr Dickinson said.

A statement released by the Bright Futures Education Trust-run school said ‘a small number of people have chosen to leave the school on a voluntary basis’. When pressed, a spokesman said six people had taken voluntary redundancy.

“South Shore has recently completed a consultation on staffing structure changes,” the statement read. “The aim was to find the best possible staffing structure which has clear lines of accountability for every post in the academy, and to minimise the impact on staff of the changes.

“All available posts have been offered to existing staff members with a genuine desire by the school for those staff to fulfill those posts. We acknowledge that any changes like this can be challenging for everyone concerned, but the consultation was carried out positively by the school, staff, and unions, with all parties contributing to the process in a wholly constructive manner.”