Transparency call on staffing cut proposal at Morpeth school

Parents of children at a Morpeth school have called on those in charge to provide reassurance that a proposed staff restructure, which would include redundancies, would not have a major negative effect on the pupils.

Thursday, 7th March 2019, 2:32 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th March 2019, 2:38 pm
Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.

A meeting to make a decision on the changes at Stobhillgate First School is due to take place next Wednesday.

Morpeth Town councillor Rachael Hogg, whose daughter attends the school, has seen evidence of the restructure proposals.

This states that there would be a reduction in teaching staff of two full-time equivalent, as well as a cut of one higher level teaching assistant, one before and after school supervisor and two part-time supervisory assistants.

There would be an addition of a nursery lead practitioner and there would be changes to the hours of some positions – some would increase and some would decrease.

It is proposed to implement the revised structure on September 1, with the documents saying that the budget projections for the next three years show a deficit that increases year-on-year.

In response to what she has seen, Coun Hogg said: “Parent communication and transparency is key when making any major changes in the school.

“It’s so important that the people in charge try to allay any fears that parents will have about the effect of these cuts on the pupils’ education.

“It appears to be a process that’s being done behind closed doors and a decision will be made without meaningful consultation.”

She added that in the circumstances, the school’s going ahead with a new uniform and rebranding logo for the next academic year has been a ‘waste of money’.

Coun Hogg said: “The new uniform will have a cost for the parents, but also for the school and it will have needed to allocate funding for the new logo and new signage, bags, stationery, and PE kits etc featuring the new logo.

“In fact, one of the newsletters refers to the school ‘working with a branding company’ on the new logo.

“A school’s staff is its most important asset and doing everything possible to maintain the current level of staffing should be the priority, rather than rebranding the school’s image, which I think is a waste of money.

“How is the school going to measure the so-called academic improvements as a result of its new image?”

Laura Bishop, a parent of a child with special educational needs (SEN) that attends the school, said: “I am deeply concerned that the school will no longer be able to meet my son’s complex needs if there is such a massive reduction in both teaching and support staff.

“Until now, my son has received fantastic support from his teachers and SEN Co-ordinator, but under these proposed, drastic cuts I fail to see how the school will be able to follow the recommendations set out in his education, health and care plan, which states that a high ratio of staff is necessary in order to enable him to achieve his potential.”

Both women also have fears that the current Year 2 group with 38 pupils, which is taught in two separate classes under an arrangement with the previous headteacher, will become one class in Year 3 this September and they added that they believe the greater focus on early years as part of the restructure means there would only be two teaching assistants covering Years 1 to 4.

A Stobhillgate First School spokesman said: “All schools have to manage their limited finances well and ours is no different.

“There are national issues around school funding and budgets have never been tighter.

“Our staffing costs represent 90 per cent of overall expenditure, which is high compared to other similar schools.

“We have a duty to provide best value in use of public funds and having a balanced staffing structure is vital to fulfilling this.

“Following a thorough review, liaison with the local authority and consultation with the governing body, the difficult decision was taken to carry out a consultation on a proposed staffing restructure.

“This process is being completed in a timely manner in order to future proof the school and consultation with staff and unions is due to finish this week.

“We have proactively sourced additional funding in order to improve our provision and will continue to do this.

“We were successful in our bid to the Healthy Pupil Capital Fund to secure £10,000 for an outdoor area, gained a business donation that has been earmarked for the development of a new school logo and signage, and local county councillor John Beynon has allocated some of his local schemes funding for our early years learning environment.

“Unfortunately, none of this external funding can support ongoing staffing costs, but we will continuously strive to do everything that we can to enable the high level of provision that our pupils deserve.”

Coun Beynon said: “It was quite a surprise to hear about this restructure as Stobhillgate First School is a very successful school.

“I will be contacting the county council to hopefully get to the bottom of it.”

A Northumberland County Council spokesman said: “We are aware of the school’s recent intention to consult on changes to its staffing structure.

“All schools have a responsibility to ensure that they use available resources effectively to meet the needs of their students.

“It is down to each school to manage its own budget and management processes and these types of management decision are ultimately taken by the head and the governing body.”