Blackpool schools’ funding cuts puts scores of jobs at risk

CREDIT: This story was first seen in The Blackpool Gazette

Scores of jobs are under threat at schools across Blackpool, which a union claimed could cost people their homes, The Blackpool Gazette reports.

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.

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% 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.”

“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.”

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.”

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.

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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% – 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% more per pupil in real terms than in 2000.”

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