Saturday, 20 May 2017

Forest Hill - 10 financial questions that need to be answered

Sadly, unjustified accusations have been levelled at Forest Hill NUT members over the last few days. Yet the people that should really be being questioned are those who are refusing to act to provide the additional financial support that Forest Hill School needs.

These dedicated teachers, who work so hard to support FHS students, are being accused, at worst, of striking without any thought as to how it might damage children's education. On the contrary, they are seeking to prevent the lasting damage that will be caused when a school is told to make £1.3 Million of staffing cuts and then also find the £0.5 Million that has to be paid out when you make so many staff redundant. 

Others, perhaps with more sympathy, are telling NUT members that, while their campaign is understood, it has to stop because they are fighting a cause that cannot be won. Parents and staff are being told that there is nothing that can be done, that the Council and School have no room for manoeuvre, and that the cuts simply have to be made.

The NUT does not accept that nothing can be done. Firstly, we believe that something HAS to be done both to make sure that posts are retained to support the most vulnerable pupils and also to address the very real danger of a teacher retention crisis at the school.

Secondly, we believe, from the sadly limited financial information that we have so far been provided, that something CAN be done. We have produced a factsheet and question sheet based on the information that we have been given.

So, instead of simply repeating the mantra that 'there is no alternative', we would like the Council to answer the following ten questions:

a) Why have the cuts fallen so heavily on the staffing budget? 

1) The National Audit Office has recently warned that reducing the proportion of spending on teaching staff before other areas of spending increases the risk that "schools will make poorly informed decisions that could have detrimental effects on educational outcomes”. So why have the cuts at FHS fallen so heavily on the staffing budget?

2) The answer provided so far from the Council has been that the percentage of budget spent on staffing at FHS is 81%. However, our calculations suggest that the real figure is 75%, slightly lower than the NAO report as the national average. Can the Council check their calculations and confirm the actual proportion of expenditure being spent on staffing?

b) What cuts can be made to the non-staffing budget?
3) The school budget forecasts include a £100,000 figure for 'contingency'. Rather than put money aside for the future, shouldn't it be spent on addressing the immediate problems?

4) While staffing expenditure is (we believe) being disproportionately cut, there are a number of non-staffing headings that are being increased significantly. These include ICT, the PFI Unitary Charge, 'bought in professional services' and 'professional services'. Just these four items total over £1.5 Million. Is it really not possible to cut some of these costs instead of cutting so many staff?

c) What assumptions have been made about staffing costs and future income?

5) Even though this is being legally challenged by the NUT, Lewisham Council are insisting that the cost of making so many staff redundant has to come from the school budget. Can Lewisham Council confirm that the cost of these payments is nearly £0.5 Million and can the School show where these costs appear in the budget forecasts? 

6) It appears from what the NUT have been told that the budget forecasts for staffing costs assume that the problems facing all schools - of income not meeting the actual costs of NI, pension and pay - will continue. Yet all three of the main parties have, to a greater or lesser extent, suggested there might be some additional expenditure on schools after the General Election. Whatever happens, the campaign to oppose school cuts is gaining strength. Why not postpone some of the cuts and then allow parents, staff, unions, school and Council to all work together to demand these national promises are kept?

d) Why not act as a responsible lender and restructure the loan repayment or use the other powers under your Scheme of Delegation to support the School?

7) Lewisham Mayor and Cabinet agreed last November that, as long as a recovery plan making £1.3M staffing cuts was put in place, they would loan Forest Hill School £879k to be paid back over a five year period in order to cover the school’s immediate budget shortfall. To support a school in similar difficult circumstances, Greenwich Council has just agreed to extend the loan repayment for one of their maintained schools from five to seven years. Why can't Lewisham Council do the same?

8) Greenwich Council also supported this school through directing funding towards it for specific purposes. Lewisham's Scheme of Delegation also states that "the LA is authorised to make sums available to schools from central funds, in the form of allocations which are additional to and separate from the schools’ budget shares". Why can't Lewisham Council act on this provision?

9) Lewisham's Scheme of Delegation also states (when discussing who pays for redundancy costs under Section 37(5) of the Education Act 2002) that "costs incurred by the LA in respect of the dismissal of any member of the staff of a maintained school shall not be met from a school’s budget share for any financial year except in so far as the authority have good reason for deducting those costs". So what good reason does the Council have for making Forest Hill School pay £0.5 Million in redundancy costs itself?

10) The Scheme of Delegation also states that  "any amount payable by the governing body to the local authority may be met out of the school’s budget share for any funding period if the governing body is satisfied that meeting the amount out of the school’s budget share will not to a significant extent interfere with the performance of any duty imposed on them by provisions specifically of section 21(2) Education Act 2002 (conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement)". Are the Governing Body satisfied that these significant staffing cuts will still allow them to carry out this duty to promote such high standards?

Friday, 19 May 2017

Forest Hill Cuts - NUT challenges Council and School to a public debate

  • £1.3M staffing cuts are severely damaging Forest Hill school
  • Teachers and parents challenge Headteacher  and Lewisham Council to public debate
  • Strikes to be withdrawn during exam period
Parents speak in support of NUT action - voices not heard in today's South London Press coverage
PRESS RELEASE - 19 May 2017
Martin Powell-Davies, NUT London Regional Secretary, said:
“The NUT, with the support of the Forest Hill Parents’ Action Group, has spent the last two months campaigning, leafleting, lobbying councillors, holding rallies and meetings, and also having to take eight days of strike action. All of this has been done to try and persuade Lewisham Council to recognise the damage that £1.3 million of staffing cuts is going to do to Forest Hill School and to act to prevent that damage.
Unlike other employers who have acted to resolve similar disputes and provide additional financial support, for example as Greenwich Council have done in relation to Plumstead Manor School, Lewisham Council have remained intransigent. As a consequence nearly 40 posts will be being cut from the school from September cutting vital support for Forest Hill students.
No teacher takes strike action lightly. Forest Hill NUT members have been striking because they know that cuts to jobs and working conditions mean cuts to the education of the Forest Hill boys that they have put so much time and dedication into supporting.
Teachers know that the next few weeks when external exams are taking place are particularly important for students. That is why Forest Hill NUT members had already voted to withdraw strike action notified until 15th June and have informed the Headteacher of their decision.
However, teachers know that the lasting damage will be caused by the £1.3 Million staffing cuts, added to by the budget cuts having to be made to pay the £0.5 million in redundancy costs that have resulted from losing so many teaching and non-teaching posts at Forest Hill. That is why they are certainly not ending their campaign, and will return to strike action if necessary.
NUT members do not wish to return to strike action but neither are they willing to sit by and see both the Council and, regrettably, the School Management, denying the damage being caused, failing to answer to the financial decisions they have taken, and refusing to reconsider their proposed cuts. NUT members are also angered that, while the School management can present their arguments directly to students and parents, NUT members views are being misrepresented or simply not heard at all.
That’s why the NUT has challenged the School to agree that, in the interests of a clear and open debate and to make sure parents are fully informed of what is happening at their children’s school:
          A statement from the NUT is sent out to parents via the school’s official written channels outlining the NUT’s position
          A member of the Senior Leadership Team attends a parents’ forum, preferably to be held at the School, and debates with representatives from the NUT and the FHS Parents’ Action Group

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Your child's future is at stake - who will stop school cuts?

Our children only have one chance to gain the education they need and deserve to make the most of their adult lives - but those opportunities are under threat.

Why? Because for the first time since the 1990s, school budgets are being cut in real terms. What's more, those cuts are on such a large scale that they can only severely impact children's education.

£3 billion in cuts by 2020 - a figure that cannot be in dispute as it is accepted by both the National Audit Office and the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts - is a huge cut. As the calculations demonstrate, it means that every primary schools stands to lose over £100,000, secondary schools nearly £0.5 million.

Those are averages, but some schools stand to be hit even harder. Which ones? An analysis by the Child Poverty Action Group of the school cuts figures shows that it will be schools with the poorest children that will lose out, those families who can least afford to see their educational opportunities stolen from them.

Schools in the 50 worst hit local authorities stand to lose over £500 per pupil. The worst hit, Southwark, is predicted a cut of 16%, over £1,000 per pupil, equivalent to cutting over 800 teachers from their posts.

These aren't just future predictions, school cuts are already happening. The National Audit Office confirms that 60% of secondary schools were already having to spend more than their annual income back in 2014/15. Some have now already exhausted any reserves they might have had and are already being forced to make significant cuts.

Across London, NUT members are having to take strike action to try and defend their jobs and working conditions and, in doing so, education and children's learning conditions. Those disputes illustrate exactly what these cuts mean in practice.

In Ark Elvin in Brent, 10 job losses are predicted, mainly support staff. In Plumstead Manor in Greenwich, 30 jobs are to be cut, including teachers and learning support assistants. In nearby Corelli College, 17 jobs are at risk. In Forest Hill in Lewisham a cut of over £1 million will see 15 teaching posts cut on top of over 20 support staff. In Hackney, specialist support teachers and SENCOs are at risk in both the Inclusion Team and at Parkwood Primary School.

These schools give a glimpse of what the school cuts figures show will be coming to 99% of schools unless the £3 billion of funding we need is found: curriculum subjects  - cut, support for EAL, SEN and the pupils who need it most - cut, time for teachers to mark and prepare lessons - cut,

The cuts will mean stripping everything to the bone, leaving just the minimum staffing required to keep a teacher in front of a class - but with those class sizes growing even larger.

As the Labour Party drew attention to this week, already over half a million primary school pupils are in classes over 30, that's 1 in 8 of our youngsters - and that's only going to get worse if these cuts continue.

These cuts won't just make things even more difficult for children, it will make things even harder for staff. Long hours and excessive workload mean we already have a teacher recruitment and retention crisis, these cuts will make that even worse.  

Staffing will be cut overall and the staff that are left will be overworked, unhappy and constantly changing. That's not the stable environment that children need for their education.

All of those facts and examples spell out a grim picture for our children's future. However, I've not spelt them out for you to feel downhearted, but for you to feel angry - and determined to stop them - because, we can, and must, do that.

Parents and staff care deeply about education. That passion for education is driving a growing campaign to stop school cuts. Meetings of hundreds have taken place across London and beyond. Parents, students and staff have been united in bold and lively protests supporting the local disputes I have mentioned. Today, 200 staff and parents marched through the streets of Catford in support of Forest Hill School.

And, of course, now our campaign has a clear focus and a very immediate timescale. On June 8, we will elect a new Government. We need to make sure that it is a Government that will defend education and reverse school cuts.   

We will be supporting local activities, including stalls, hustings, question times, rallies and marches to make sure that school cuts becomes one of the central issues in the General Election campaign.

The NUT doesn't support any political party and so we will lobby every candidate on this issue. But what is clear is that the outgoing Government has shown where it stands - and it stands for cuts. It is a Government that promised to protect school funding -  but has broken that promise.

It has tried to cover up the losses hitting nearly every school with the deck-chair shuffling of the National Funding Formula. But robbing Peter to pay Paul does not resolve the problem. Unless there is enough funding overall to meet needs, then no funding formula can possibly be 'fair'.

The Tories haven't even been honest enough to confirm the outcome of their Funding Formula consultation before the General Election campaign starts. That means that suspicions will only grow that, if they think they can get away with it, the outcomes could mean even more money being redistributed away from the worst-hit metroplitan areas.

They claim that they can't afford to invest in education - but
what can be more important than investing in our children's future? Why not use the uninvested wealth sitting in the bank accounts across the Square Mile?

Of course, they can find money when it suits their blinkered educational ideology. NUT research shows that the Government squandered £140 million on 62 free schools, UTCs and studio schools that have either closed, partially closed, or never opened.

They also announced in the March Budget that they were able to find an additional £320 million for education - but only to fund a further expansion of free schools and selective grammar schools.

We should be in no doubt that Government support for selection and for education cuts are part of the same austerity agenda. As a civil servant famously said back in the 1980s "There has to be selection because we are beginning to create aspirations which increasingly society cannot match ... We have to select to ration the educational opportunities to meet the job opportunities". In short, they offer a future where only a select few children are worth investing in, the others can be written off. 

That's a future that none of us can accept. We have to campaign to win an alternative future, a future where every child really matters - and that means defeating school cuts.

So let's take the passion and determination that I have seen in the streets of Forest Hill this afternoon, at the rallies that are taking place across the country, and let's defeat school cuts!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

School cuts will be a central issue in the General Election

  • School staff strike in three South-East London schools against cuts 
  • March and Rally on Saturday 22nd April in Forest Hill

Today, in three South-East London schools, NUT members took strike action against the threat to jobs and conditions from school cuts.

NUT members at Corelli College, Blackheath, were taking their first day of strike action while members at Forest Hill School in Lewisham were on their fourth day of action. At Plumstead Manor School in Greenwich (pictured above), both GMB and NUT members took strike action alongside each other.

School cuts will be a central issue in the General Election campaign

Martin Powell-Davies, London NUT Regional Secretary said:

“These local disputes, also taking place in further London schools in the coming weeks, illustrate the threats that will be facing schools right across England if the next Government fails to provide the money needed to genuinely fund all schools fairly. As the website has shown, 98% of schools stand to face real terms cuts – and that means our children losing out on their one chance to the education they deserve. That’s why the NUT want to make sure that education cuts are a central issue in the General Election campaign”.

Teachers and Parents holding rally and demonstration on Saturday 22nd April

Before the General Election was announced, teachers and parents had already announced a march through Catford in support of Forest Hill School. That event now takes on a wider significance and is being supported by staff from Corelli College and Plumstead Manor as well.

Event details:

Demonstration assembling at 11.30 in Mountsfield Park, SE6 1AN

March at 12.15 to Rally in Mayow Park, near Forest Hill School, SE26 4SS.