Herts Tories short-change schools

Lib Dems were disappointed, but not surprised, when Hertfordshire Tories voted to enhance property developer profits by reducing the amount they have to pay to provide school places.

The change in policy, from the upper end of the range allowed in the regulations to the bottom end, was proposed by officers because it was ‘too difficult to argue’ after neighbouring authorities and the Government’s own agency, the ESFA, allowed developers to contribute the lowest possible amount or are building schools to the lower specification.

Paul Zukowskyj, Shadow Cabinet Resources Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats commented: “I want the very best for our children. Officers should ask for the standard that the County set just two years ago, because if they ask for less they most certainly won’t get more.

“It would probably surprise no-one that some of the developers, and the major shareholders behind them, who stand to potentially benefit from this change are also major donors to the Conservative cause.”

Is your local school falling apart?

Hertfordshire County Council, the Local Education Authority, has confirmed its intended support for school building maintenance for 2016/17, and it is £0.

Responding to a question by Lib Dem Shadow Cabinet member for Resources, Paul Zukowskyj, County officers confirmed the Government grant for school repairs will not be topped up by a single penny from the County Council next year.

Unfunded, but approved and agreed, repairs are running at millions of pounds a year, so many schools face the misery of trying to teach schoolchildren in substandard buildings. HCC were recently assessed as being in the worst 8% of authorities, yet the Conservative administration at County Hall seem unwilling to address such a serious issue. (more…)

Over 50% of schools ‘are broke’

Lib Dem County Councillors were appalled to discover that despite already losing staff, cutting any excess costs and really tightening their belts, over 50% of Secondary Schools in Hertfordshire are in the red this year.

At the County Council’s Performance and Resources Panel this week, council staff reported that ten of the eighteen secondary schools maintained by the council had applied for or were projecting a deficit by the end of this financial year. No information was available for academies, but it is believed the picture is broadly similar.

A total deficit of over £3.4m for just ten schools was outlined, so a shocking £347,000 average per school.

The flat cash settlement, reaffirmed by Conservative chancellor George Osborne in his autumn statement, means the situation next year is likely to mean every single school is in the red.

Paul Zukowskyj, Lib Dem spokesperson on Resources commented ‘The Chancellor’s autumn statement was another body blow for our struggling schools. He promised £10bn for education, but none of that was for our established schools, leaving them with no choice but to cut teaching staff.  (more…)

Hertfordshire Tories downplay school’s funding crisis

At yesterday’s meeting of the County Council, the Conservative administration massively downplayed the urgency of the funding crisis facing the County’s schools. The crisis, which has already seen teachers losing their jobs, class sizes increased and subjects cut, is set to get very much worse in coming years.

Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson, Cllr Mark Watkin, presented letters from the heads of nine successful secondary schools describing how they were being forced to reduce teacher numbers, cut teaching assistants, increase class sizes and cut subjects. Each school is facing cuts of £2-300k in their budgets and have little option but to lose staff.

In a motion presented yesterday (Tuesday 10th Nov), Mark simply asked that Councillor Robert Gordon, the Conservative Leader, write to the Education Minister in support of the Chair of the Schools Forum. Alan Gray, Head Teacher of Sandringham School and Chair of the Forum, which represents all schools in Hertfordshire, had written to the Minister responsible for schools funding expressing his concern about the impact real-terms cuts would have on the quality of education that Hertfordshire Schools could provide.

The Conservatives passed their own motion instead, which despite evidence from officers reports and letters from Head Teachers, utterly failed to acknowledge the shortfall of £28.3m in schools budgets next financial year, and the growth of that shortfall to a £70m deficit in 2019-20.

Mark commented. “My motion was not radical. I simply asked the Council to recognise the depth of the crisis that Secondary Heads face and write a supporting letter to the Minister. By downplaying this they have sent out a very negative message to parents and Hertfordshire Schools.”

“Heartless” Conservatives Ignore Herts School Funding Crisis

Conservative Councillors on the County’s education committee (Education, Enterprise and Skills Cabinet Panel) have refused to support the action of the Chairman of the County’s headteachers’ committee (Schools Forum).

The Schools Forum Chair has written to the Education Minister at the Department for Education expressing deep concern about the funding crisis facing Hertfordshire Secondary Schools.

Senior County Education officers explained to the EES Cabinet Panel that in 2016/17 they predict an unfunded cut of £23m on top of ‘savings’ of £5m (£28m total). As a result of this massive cut to education they expect almost all the secondary schools in the county to run out of money and reserves. They also predicted that the situation would get worse as future funding is expected to be cut by almost £60m by 2020.

The Liberal Democrats proposed a motion asking that the Committee support the action of the Chairman of the Schools Forum by asking the Council Leader to simply write his own letter to the Department of Education in support, but all the Conservative Councillors voted against this simple request. (more…)

Herts school buildings are virtually worst in country

When Liberal Democrat councillors at County Hall initiated a ‘scrutiny’ into the scope and efficiency of the Hertfordshire schools repair and maintenance programme, little did they expect to learn that the county’s schools are in such bad condition relative to other education authorities.

Evidence given to the councillors by the county’s officers included the government Education Funding Agency ‘condition dashboard’.  This shows that Hertfordshire is in the bottom 8 percent of  English local education authorities in terms of the condition of its school buildings.

“Parents will be shocked that their children are being educated in such poorly maintained buildings,” said Cllr Sandy Walkington, who took part in the scrutiny process.  “Hats off to teachers for achieving the results they do.  But we cannot go on accepting a position so near the bottom of the league table.  It’s not just about having smart buildings, there are clear health and safety issues.

“It was even more shocking to hear Conservative councillors at the evidence gathering session state it was ‘ good to have school buildings in such a poor condition since it means we get more money to repair them’.  So much for that glib Conservative soundbite about the importance of mending roofs when the sun is shining.”

Councillors on the committee were presented with a list of 55 schools in the county with outstanding repair needs totalling £15.9 million and they were told there was no budget for these projects.  “Some of these outstanding schemes are rated D1,” Cllr Malcolm Cowan, Vice Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee said.

“Condition ‘D’ in county council speak means that the asset is ‘life expired’, exhibiting major deterioration with a serious risk of imminent breakdown or presenting a health and safety hazard.  The ‘1’ means that repair is deemed to be urgent to prevent immediate closure of the property or high risk to its occupants or remedy serious breaches of legislation.

“It simply beggars belief that Hertfordshire children are expected to study in buildings exhibiting such an appalling failure in maintenance,’ Malcolm Cowan concluded.

Garden Fields JMI to be expanded

Notice from the county council

Hertfordshire County Council has given the green light for plans to extend and refurbish a primary school in St Albans.

Garden Fields JMI School will expand from two forms of entry to three forms of entry.

Permission was granted by the council’s development control committee to build three new classrooms, a break-out space, toilets and additional staff parking.

County’s emails fail anxious parents

Angry parents are demanding to know why the vital Internet services telling them whether their children had gained their chosen secondary school failed for most of Monday. It was only in the late afternoon following the intervention of Lib Dem County Councillor Chris White that the problem was spotted and the service established.

Opposition Spokesperson Mark Watkin commented “This is unacceptable. The County Council should have had back-up services ready to meet this sort of emergency. Being allocated the school of your choice is second only to learning the results of the state’s exams in the significance it can make to a child’s life. I expect the Admissions Team to publish an apology on the County’s website and in future to take the necessary steps to ensure that this never happens again.”

Secondary admissions: announcement from the county council

The new school year may have only just started but it’s already time for parents and carers to start planning ahead for next year.
The application process for secondary schools (including upper, studio schools or university technical colleges) is open from this week.

If your child starts primary, or moves on to a junior, middle, secondary, upper, studio school or university technology college next year make sure you apply for a place in good time.

The easiest way to apply for a school place for September 2015 is to visitwww.hertsdirect.org/admissions and complete the online application form. Online applications can be amended at any time up to the closing date and you can access your school offer before allocation letters are received and accept your school allocation online.

One in four 16+ pupils not in employment or training

In a report submitted to the County Council’s Children Services Panel, officers disclosed that almost one in four of all young people in the County’s care between the ages of sixteen and eighteen were neither employed or in education or training (NEET). This compares with average for this age range of one young person in thirty.

Mark Watkin, Opposition Spokesperson for Children’s Services commented “This is shameful. These young people are entrusted to the care of the County Council and for so many to be aimlessly drifting at such a young age in a County with some of the best schools and colleges and with one of the lowest unemployment figures in the country is damning.

“I recognise that these young people present some of the highest challenges of any group, but if they stay unemployed and out of education for too long they will inevitably drift into crime and possibly prison which would be totally unacceptable.

Mark concluded by saying, “It is critically important that the County Children’s Service addresses this as a matter of urgency.”