Thursday, 10 February 2011

Brent as a Self-Harming Black Knight

The Green Party strongly supports the role of Local Authorities in ensuring adequate and effective educational provision including that for children with special educational needs and disabilities, with fair admissions procedures and support for schools in difficulties.

Unfortunately the cuts and charges being implemented by Brent Council as a result of the Coalition Government's reduction in grant have the effect of the council actually reducing its own role and may eventually lead to its demise as an education authority. It is as if the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail cut his own limbs off!

In addition to the cuts outlined in previous posts the Brent School Improvement Service based at the Centre for Staff Development in Brentfield Road near the Swaminarayan Temple  faces cuts of  nearly £500,000. The staff there provide support services for schools across the borough in terms of management, curriculum development and pedagogy training teachers and support staff as well as school improvement advisors. The Centre has itself come under threat in previous rounds of cuts.  The training and support provided has contributed to the great improvement in the quality of education in Brent over the last few years with local schools out-performing similar schools in other boroughs. It also provides a forum for staff from different schools to learn from each and collaborate with successful programmes such as the Learning Project which also involves the London Institute of Education.  Training in Reading Recovery and other intervention projects  all contribute to support for children who are falling behind their peers.

This reduction in central support will mean that schools will now need to buy-in these services from private companies or consultants adding to the pressure on their budgets. Where central services still continue but with reduced staffing they are likely to become less efficient and headteachers may choose to buy-in educational psychologists and other advisory staff. Inevitably this will lead to a spiral of decline in the central support services leading to further cuts in staffing. This spiral is already evident in some departments after last year's staffing cuts.

The budget proposals already include an increase in charges to schools for the Brent Music Service of £50,000. The  BMS provides singing and instrumental tuition in schools and coordinates the amazing annual  Brent Schools Concert at the Wembley Arena. Follow this link to see the 2010 I Have A Song To Sing event: LINK  I challenge you to watch it and not be moved.

Just as the council has had to make decisions on what to cut governing bodies of schools will be faced with choices of what to buy in. If services do not attract enough support from schools their future will be put in doubt.

The real danger is that as support from the local authority is reduced or becomes inadequate,  schools will be tempted to go it alone and opt for academy status as the advantages of being an LA school become less evident. There are already rumours that secondary headteachers have informally agreed that if they decide to  opt  for academy status that they will do so as a group, rather than individually. The Brent NUT and ATL have already intervened at Claremont to ensure that this isn't a headteacher's decision but one for the whole school community. As schools become academies the amount of money available to the local authority is reduced.  Academies and free schools will erode local democratic accountability despite being funded by our taxes: taxation without representation.

The Local Schools Network recognises these issues LINK and deserves wider support. Their basic principles are:
  1. Every child has a right to go to an excellent local state school, enabling every child to achieve their full potential.
  2. Every state school should have a fair admissions procedure.
  3. Every local school should be responsive to their parents and pupils’ needs and wishes and be accountable to the local community.
  4. That local schools in difficulties should be supported to improve, not attacked and  demoralised.

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