Saturday, 12 May 2012

Schools in crisis - assurances needed from Children and Families

There's lots happening regarding schools in Brent at the moment so it is a bit of a surprise to see that no report from the Children and Families department has been tabled for the Executive Meeting on May 21st LINK

Brent Council was featured in the Times Education Supplement on May 4th LINK in an article entitled 'Financial scandal continues to plague Brent Council'. This was followed up a front page story in the Brent and Kilburn Times this week.

The TES links four stories of financial mismanagement commencing with the Copland High School allegations of unlawful bonuses which has resulted in the arrest and bailing of seven staff and a governor , the sacking of the head of Furness Primary for 'serious mismanagement' and the suspension of the head of Kensal Primary for 'alleged breaches of financial regulation'. They are joined by Malorees Junior School this week where it is claimed that the school spends 101% of its budget on staffing compared with the 80-85% of most schools and is heading for a deficit of £0.25m within the next two years.

The TES states:
The school's chair of governors, Brent councillor Patricia Harrison, resigned in April after parents called for her departure and accused her of incompetence. One letter from a parent said the governors at Malorees Junior had "spectacularly failed the children in this school, their families and can only have left the teaching and support staff feeling vulnerable, professionally bruised and demoralised".
Presumably the Children and Families Department is undertaking some kind of investigation which will establish the facts of the matter. It should also ask why Brent Council's monitoring and auditing processes, despite the Copland case now being three years old, still seem to fail  to unearth such problems and deal with them quickly. It appears that the Malorees staff will suffer the consequences with teachers being reduced from 16 to 12 and others losing their allowances. Councillors surely need to know how the quality  educational provision will be maintained in this situation.

Another matter deserving of  discussion is the possible academy conversion of four more Brent high schools and the teaching unions' threat of strike action to secure secret ballots of staff and parents over the issue. The financial consequences to the overall education budget of such a move is a matter of great concern, particularly as the Council has warned schools about the flat budget settlements to be expected over the next three years. The possibility of Brent Council forming a partnership with a free school provider to create a new school in Brent should also be reported on.

Diminishing school budgets and the withdrawal of the authority from provision of all but core educational services have put also put the future of the borough's School Improvement Service in the balance. It is quite likely that the Service will not exist in its present form by April 2013.  This will impact on monitoring of the quality of teaching and learning in our schools. Schools in danger of failing may not in future be quickly identified and remedial action taken.

It would be disastrous if cuts in experienced staff that have already hit the financial management section of Children and Families and may have contributed to the situation of Malorees and other schools, are compounded by cuts that will reduce the school improvement expertise that has raised standards across Brent.

There has rightly been a sharp focus on the provision of additional school places to cater for the increase in the borough's pupil population and this has been led by the Major Projects and Regeneration Department. Children and Families need to be assuring councillors and the public that the urgent and serious  issues outlined above are under control and  receiving the attention they deserve.

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