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?

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