Friday 23 November 2012

Cuts to Services to Schools treat staff shabbily and pose risks for Brent's children

The full extent of the reduction in Services to School provided by Brent Council through the Children and Families Department is made clear in a report going before Brent's General Purposes Committee on Tuesday.

This is the latest reduction in council services and follows out-sourcing of school meals and cleaning to private companies many years ago, the ending of the Brent Council Supply Teachers desk with that role going to competing agencies  that take a large cut out of the fee schools pay, and the recent news that Brent Council will no longer provide a payroll service. Schools will have to find another provider by April 2013. The Council deemed the pay roll service non viable after may schools opted out, employing 'cheaper' private companies instead. Many of the payroll companies also provide a human resources service so  Brent HR may also be under threat in the future.

The reduction in Services to School is linked to the overall cuts in the Brent Budget, Coalition policy encouraging great school autonomy, the ending of ear-marked grants which the council previously administered, the loss of council revenue caused by schools becoming academies and upcoming changes in the way schools are funded.

As I have argued before on Wembley Matters as cuts are made by the council and services are provided by fewer staff - more work by fewer people for less pay - the quality of the service deteriorates and schools feel forced to consider sourcing from other providers.

Headteachers through the Brent Schools Forum have opted to set up a Brent Schools Partnership which aims to provide support and development between schools which will also buy-in to services provided by both the council and private providers.

Schools' Forum has also decided that much of the money currently retained by the council to provide services will instead be paid into individual school budgets. The budget for these services of £1,119,626 will now go to schools.

Services to Schools are funded from various sources:
  • The Council's General Fund
  • The Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG)
  • Income provided by schools purchasing services
  • Specific programme grants provided by health bodies and the Department for Education
This results in an indicative budget for 2013/14 of £1,579,800 compared to £2,130,000 this year, a reduction of more than half a million pounds. The report proposes a 'core school improvement service' with 7.47 full-time equivalent posts funded from the Council's General Fund and 13.2 fte posts funded by the DSG.

Apart from the core services the Schools' Forum also decided that the following services would be retained by the LA
  • Early Years Quality Improvement Service £577,000
  • Early Years  Special Education Needs and Disability Service £167,444
  • Learning Zone at Wembley Stadium £81,000
  • Specialist  Educational Need staff £162,959
Those no longer funded include the ethnic minority achievement and support for travellers, refugees and asylum seekers service  (£754, 830) and continuing support  for the reading recovery programme. Both these services have played a major role in the raising of standards of achievement in Brent schools. Surely this raises major equality issues?

The education welfare service which supports schools and parents in ensuring children attend school regularly and on time; the pre-exclusions teams which works with schools, pupils and parents to prevent them from being excluded, and the behaviour support team will no longer be managed from with the Services to Schools department and will 'be located elsewhere in Children and Families' alongside the Pupil Referral Units and other services for vulnerable pupils. However it appears that staff employed here cannot relax about their jobs as there will be a staffing reorganisation for them in 2013.

The report states that a total of 28 posts will be affected by the proposals. 11 are vacant and 17 currently filled. The report says there is a potential indirect discrimination as regards women in the proposed redundancies but suggests that this could be rendered lawful if 'any potential discriminatory effect is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'.  A predictive Equalities Impact Assessment identifies that the majority of the staff affected are female with a significant proportion over 50. The report suggest that all 'reasonable' steps be taken to obtain alternative posts in 'Brent schools or around the council' for them..

Apart from job losses the new core service will also mean changes for those left behind (the 'more work by fewer people for less pay' principle).  The structure includes:

 ...generic posts whereby each school improvement lead will be expected to undertake some common general duties as well as to provide specialist leadership in one or more of overall co-ordination of the work of the team:
  • Special Educational Needs
  • Ethnic minority achievement and equalities
  • Statutory assessment
  • Behaviour, safety and well-being
I am concerned about these proposals for a variety of reasons:
  •  The present team is successful with Brent schools achieving above the national average now, having been seen as failing in the past
  • Experience shows that such teams once lost are extremely difficult to rebuild
  • The proposals, taken alongside the development of academies and free schools in the borough, will further weaken the local authority
  • The statutory role of the council in overseeing the interests of children and young people in Brent will be made more difficult by the proposals
  • The performance of schools can change suddenly as a result of social and economic conditions as well as key staff changes and the council will lack the resources to deal with this
  • The strategic guidance for schools provided by the School Improvement Service will be reduced and may not be strong within the proposed and untested Brent Schools Partnership
  • The Brent Schools Partnership decisions were made without the agreement of school governing bodies who are responsible for strategic decisions
  • The Partnership may take up the time of headteachers in terms of planning and administration that would otherwise b devoted to the improvement of teaching and learning in their schools
  • Mutual support may be difficult for smaller schools or schools that are struggling to improve or dealing with reorganisation or major building works
  • Although surviving staff will transfer to the Civic Centre with a Staff Development Centre as a facility survive and will the Brent Schools Partnership as a separate have to pay for training space
  • The decline in the role and services of the local authority will provide ammunition for those arguing for conversion to academy status - 'What benefit is there in us staying an LA schools?'
To sum up I think we are taking a huge gamble which could put at risk our children's education. I also think that this is a shabby way to treat dedicated staff who have done so much for Brent children and their schools.

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