Sunday, 23 January 2011

Government cuts in education

The government's claim to be protecting schools from cuts has been strongly criticised by a headteacher from York. Tony Gavin, head of Laurence Jackson Secondary School in Guisborough, North Yorkshire said he will have to make frontline staff cuts to balance his books despite the Chancellor George Osborne's promise in his October budget of an increase in school funding.

Tony Gavin

Gavin, a teacher for three decades and head for eight years, also warns that the government’s highly publicised restoration of some sports partnership funding should not camouflage a cut of over 80% in the overall budget.

Savings were always going to be needed following the scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future [BSF] programme. Gavin had spent a day a week over two years developing plans to improve facilities at the fifty-year-old school. The £25 million project was days away from being concluded when on July 5th 2010 BSF was abandoned.

Gavin’s “devastation” also meant having to re-examine how to spend his £7.5m annual budget. He’d chosen the cheaper repairs option for a leaking roof. In November a surveyors report indicated a requirement to remove asbestos. Whether the funds must come from his own budget or the local authorities is uncertain.

Faced with such disappointment Gavin was therefore “initially delighted” to hear the Chancellor George Osborne, in his October budget, announce that between 2010 and 2014 the schools budget would rise “by 0.1% in real terms, up from £35 to £39 billion.” Children’s education was to be protected.

However when he then discovered part of the Government’s £80 billion cuts package included scrapping the Schools Sports Partnership [SSP] specialist funding stream that provides five hours of sport per pupil per week in schools he was left “extremely angry.”

He remains so even after vigorous campaigning saw some sports funding restored at Christmas. This is because whilst this was highly publicised, as an example of a Government climbdown, just £65 million will remain available over the next three years rather than the original £480 million allocated under the previous government.

LJS is the hub site for the East Cleveland SSP that employs a development manager, two sports coordinators and an administrator. Keeping the posts will mean cutting elsewhere.

Gavin hopes to maintain improvements at a school with children from a wide background mix. Last summer over 65% of GCSE pupils left with five A to C grades, including English and Mathematics. It’s going to have to be done, especially as local Government funding for classroom assistants is being cut, with less staff. Gavin has told employees  “LJS could be a £250,000 in debt by April and £2 million by 2013. “

From amongst 95 teachers and 70 support staff he estimates needing to annually lose three of the former and six of the latter for the next four years. His “teaching staff are already expressing concerns about increased class sizes, with significantly fewer support staff to assist with the challenging children.  George Osborne’s statement was misleading, by suggesting education is being protected. “

A Department for Education spokesperson disputed this saying “the 0.1% rise protects cash levels for every single pupil whilst striking a balance between cutting out unnecessary waste at the same time as protecting high-quality frontline services.”

The spokesperson also defended SSP cuts saying “having enjoyed some £2.4 billion of public funds since 2003 every school should have embedded good practice in order to maintain the current sports provision. We have restored some funding to assist schools raise participation levels and encourage competitive sport. “
Gavin remains unconvinced saying, “schools are not being protected from cuts and in sport I know schools are already cutting staff numbers. I want to retain the sports partnership activities we organise but faced with such a huge cut it will be very difficult.” 

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