UNISON rep Keith Manville reports on recent difficult decisions and challenges discussed at the Schools’ Forum.
Keith is a workplace rep at Oak Grove College special school, Worthing. He represents UNISON members on the West Sussex Schools’ Forum.
“In December the forum unanimously rejected (28 votes to 0) a proposed one-off transfer in 2018/19 of £2m from the ‘schools block’ to pay towards the most deserving, but less well funded ‘high needs block’. Everyone agreed this strategy had failed in the past because it was ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’. It’s a crisis waiting to happen.
“It gave the impression to government that the schools block was well funded and could afford it. With a heavy heart, many forum members working in SEN accepted the pain we could now go through.
“A clear message needs to be sent to local MPs and government; as a statutory body, we are no longer prepared to support the council’s strategy and approve or accept such measures.”
Branch Secretary Dan Sartin explains: “National Funding Formula (NFF) plans have been announced. WSCC is working towards introducing them by 2020. But when the apprenticeship levy, pension costs and pay rises are factored in, there is no new money available for schools. WSCC also allocates money to West Sussex schools through a local formula. It’s a measure related to this that has been rejected by the Schools’ Forum.”
“Central government has given West Sussex heads and governors an impossible situation. It’s driving our schools over a cliff edge. It’s about time our local MPs did more to speak out on this scandal inflicted by the government.”
In view of the high needs cost pressures arising from significant increases in recent years in EHCPs and demand for specialist placements for pupils with complex needs, the Council decided to submit an appeal to the Secretary of State for Education. On 31st January, WSCC received notification that the appeal was upheld. This means that WSCC will after all transfer approximately £2.2m from the Schools block to the High Needs block in 2018.
This decision shifts the burden of the impact of Government policy to underfund schools back onto the Schools Block, effectively ignoring the consultation process last year with schools and the recommendation of the Schools Forum.
This decision has done nothing to change the situation, it only moves the problem elsewhere.
It also raises concerns about the role of the Schools’ Forum if every time the local authority doesn’t agree with its decisions it appeals to the Government. There is a danger that the Forum becomes little more than a rubber stamp for local authority decisions on managing schools finances.
Ultimately whatever decision was made, the truth remains that continued Government policy is failing our children, damaging the education system and reducing the opportunities for many children in West Sussex.
UNISON anticipates a difficult term and a half leading up to the summer break, with more school reorganisations and redundancies likely.
If you work in a school and want to get in touch with Keith, please contact our office.