Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Hard Times Ahead for Education in Brent

Brent Council, faced with having to make 'savings' of £90m by 2015 is undertaking a 'fundamental review of purpose' headteachers and chairs of governors were told at a briefing last night. Krutika Pau, Director of Children and Families, said this would involve deciding what services the council will continue to offer, reduce, stop or provide in partnership with others.  The council's 'One Council Programme' was designed to both reduce costs and protect front line services. What counts as 'front line' will need to be reviewed.

The Children and Families Department will lose £1.8m in-year grant reductions. Grant information is not yet available and school budget figures for 2011-12 will not be available until February or March 2011, only days before the start of the new financial year. This will make forward planning by governing bodies extremely difficult.

Capital spending for buildings will be reduced by 60% over the next 5 years and will be limited to spend on demographic pressures (additional children) and maintenance - not new build or rebuild.At the same time Brent  is facing an unprecedented increase in pupil numbers and a 55% increase in referrals to Children's Social Care. 1,000 additional children have needed school places in Brent since August.

Clive Heaphy, nine weeks into his job at Director of Finance and Corporate Services, presented the picture on funding. The DfE will receive cuts of 10.8%. Funding for the schools budget will increase by £3.6bn in cash terms by the end of the Spending Review period, a 0.1% increase in real terms each year. However pupil numbers will increase by an average of 0.7% per year equalling a cut  in spending  per pupil of 0.6% per year, a total of 2.25% over the five year period. The  'increase' will also have to cover the  £2.5bn pupil premium.  Schools wil be expected to find procurement and 'back office' savings of around £1bn. The public sector pay freeze is expected to 'free up' another £1bn.

The ring fences around previously centrally allocated budgets will be removed and hard-pressed schools may have to use the funds for basic purposes. These headings include:
  • One to one tuition
  • 'Every child' catch up programmes including Every Child a Reader
  • Extended schools
  • School lunch grant
  • School Standards Grant
  • School Development Grant
  • Special schools grant
  • Ethnic Minority Achievement grant
  • National Strategies budgets
  • Dedicated schools grant
  • Academies running costs
The council will be reviewing Children's Centres. some of which have only just been opened, as SureStart funding is likely to be reduced. Krutika Pau said that funding will now target the most vulnerable Under 5s and that there will be a need to 'redefine Children Centres' core offer'. A new provision that will need to be funded is the allocation of 15 hours free nursery education per week to the 'most deprived' 2 year olds.

Questioned on academies, Kruika Pau said officers would remain neutral in terms of the debate but she promised to model what would happen to funding of Brent schools if some became academies. As academies attract funding that would otherwise go to fund central services there will obviously come a tipping point where there will insufficient funds to run effective central services. The services would become too expensive for schools remaining in the local authority 'family' when other school pulled out, and the services and those functions of the local authority would no longer be viable. Cllr Mary Arnold said she had already made her position on academies clear at a previous meeting but didn't seize the opportunity to 'rally the troops'. However, members of the Teachers' Panel who attended the meeting as observers were able to give out a leaflet about the issue.

Rik Boxer, Deputy Director of Children and Families, gave a briefing on the achievements of Brent LA. At the end of the reception year Brent children were below national and London  averages, but by the end of Key Stage 2 (11 year olds in Year 6) they were above the national average. At GCSE  Brent children are 6 percentage points above the national average. He said that much needed to be done and that there would be a strong focus on schools moving from an Ofsted rating of 'satisfactory' to 'good'.  He said current proposals on academies and free schools presented a real danger of fragmentation and emphasised the need fop overall coherence, strategic planning, collective responsibility and collaboration.

Added to the financial and organisational uncertainties, and a basic lack of concrete information, are the 'reviews' that the Coalition government have announced. These cover child protection, early years, capital spending, child poverty and early intervention. Alongside this schools and governing bodies have to cope with 'policy on the hoof' which I feel are really stabilising. Over the last few months there have been several policy changes on Academies which  the Anti Academies Alliance summarised:
  • On the 4th November Michael Gove announced that the government would use its powers to turn schools in Special Measures into Academies.
  • On Friday 12th November the FT reported that the White Paper, expected during November, would pave the way for every school to be directly funded from the government,meaning every school would effectively become an Academy.
  • But then on Wednesday 17th November the press reported that Gove was inviting every school to become an Academy, as long as they were partnered with an ‘Outstanding’ school.
In addition the announcement that in future the government would fund schools directly, by-passing the local authority, was quietly reversed last weekend.

Schools face a difficult task as it is and all these uncertainties need to be sorted out quickly so that they can get on with their central task of educating the next generation.

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