Eltham North Schools hit by Labour plans

CONSERVATIVES were today calling for Labour to withdraw new proposals which will mean good schools in Eltham North will receive less funding for Special Educational Needs. The plans are likely to have a particularly damaging effect on Eltham Church of England, St Mary’s and the Gordon primary schools, all of which are in the top ten schools in the borough.

The plans, which were heard by the Labour Cabinet in Greenwich on Tuesday, mean the Labour Council will reallocate over half of its £6m budget for Special Educational Needs on the basis of prior attainment rather than the requirements of individual pupils. This means, (according to the report going to Cabinet) “those schools which admit high numbers of pupils with low levels of achievement receiving more funding for those pupils than those schools which admit relatively low numbers of underachieving pupils.”

Put simply, money will be reallocated away from individual children who need extra help and given to schools which are underachieving

When Greenwich Council consulted on the proposals, the new arrangements were rejected by parents who attended the meetings – although their views appear to have been ignored.

Leader of the Conservative Group, Cllr Spencer Drury said “This is disgusting. The new arrangements will punish schools for doing well – high achievement will lead to less funds. This could have particularly devastating effects on primary schools (especially smaller ones) where the reduction in funding could lead to staff losses. The four primary schools in Eltham North are particularly vulnerable to these changes and Labour seems unconcerned by the potential impact of their policy.

“I am also against the proposals on principle – if a child has special educational needs and requires more help and resources, then these should be given regardless of your parent’s income or the fact you happen to go to a good school.

“We are urging this Labour council to think again about their misguided policy which will punish good schools and adversely affect the children who genuinely need extra help”

Spencer attended the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, where he gave the following speech (please check this against delivery):

“Thank you for this opportunity to speak. I am here this evening principally as a ward Councillor.

I would ask Cabinet to reject these proposals. I am not against plans to focus some funding on schools which have poorer achievement (and I believe that there is already some funding available for this purpose and to help schools cope with high levels of mobility among pupils) but I am completely opposed to asking schools which are doing well to help fund the increased spending.

In this regard, my comments this evening are focused almost exclusively upon primary schools, where I believe the impact of these proposals on small, good primary schools is potentially damaging.

My concerns focus on a number of points.

The first is that the consultation was poorly done – nationally Cabinet Office guidance states that 12 weeks minimum is good practice for public consultations – this consultation was shorter (only 4 weeks) and failed to respond to the rejection of the proposals by those consulted. Indeed I find the dismissal of concerns expressed by so many parents at St Marys – which is after all one of our top primary schools – quite disturbing as they reveal something about this Councils attitude to residents of Eltham.

On a similar front, I do not think that officers consulted widely enough when designing these plans, with no school from the top 10 primary schools in the borough being asked to contribute to the SEN (Funding) Strategy Group. In my opinion, this means that the range of views which should have been aired while designing the proposals were not heard and I would ask Cabinet members to question officers to establish why 20 hours was chosen as the cut off point below which SEN funding will not be given.

I think the actual proposals are also flawed. It is my understanding, and I have checked this with officers, that a school will receive funding initially on deprivation levels among it students, but after Key Stage 1 this will switch to prior achievement. This means that a school which has deprived students, but does a good job of raising their attainment at Key Stage 1 could lose money as a result of doing well. This is a perverse incentive system and I wonder if schools won’t find themselves in a race to the bottom to achieve extra funding.

I am also against these proposals on principle. At present students are allocated funds to help with their individual special educational needs – this is the sort of individual education plan or personalised learning which the government says it favours. The new system is a formulaic system which switches funding from the individual’s needs to a general set of criteria. So students who would previously have received extra help will not do so as if they go to a good school there will not be the funds available to help them. Indeed even at a school with poor prior attainment, there will be no link between the funds and the needs of the individual pupil – in my opinion this is a poorer situation which will leave those students who need help in the future in a worse situation than those today.

I am aware that the statmenting system is laborious & costly and would happily support attempts to streamline it, but the proposal before you tonight is mistaken and should be rejected.”

The Labour Cabinet accepted the proposals unanimously.