A team that ‘revolutionized’ a failing school system in Northumberland could be at risk after its funding was cut.
Council leaders have been urged to find new funds to maintain the county’s highly respected school improvement team, after the government announced it would cut grants. Northumberland’s Schools Improvement Service was overhauled after a damning Ofsted inspection in 2013 which concluded there was a ‘significant and worrying decline’ in school standards in the county and an ‘urgent and pressing for meaningful action to establish and embed a clear vision for sustainable improvement”.
Councilors were told on Thursday that the seven-person team had “really taken the bull by the horns” and contributed to a massive turnaround in the schools’ fortunes. The number of Northumberland schools deemed inadequate or in need of improvement has fallen from 40 in 2017 to 19 today – a decreasing rate that now makes Northumberland a better country than the national average, when it was much worse there only a few years old.
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But the service faces an uncertain future, with the government cash that provides around half of its revenue soon to be cut. The Department for Education already cut its School Improvement Monitoring and Brokerage Grant, which was worth £388,910 in Northumberland, by 50 per cent last month and will end it completely next April.
A report to the council’s Family and Children’s Services Oversight and Review Committee warned on Thursday that it would be “difficult to make up the shortfall” and that the rising costs of purchasing the service for children schools would put more pressure on their stretched budgets at a time when they are already dealing with the impact of the pandemic and the energy crisis.
Councilor Guy Renner-Thompson confirmed the authority’s cabinet had asked county finance chiefs to find money to protect the service, which is currently used by 118 schools. The portfolio holder of the Tory-led council for children and young people said: ‘We are committed to keeping the service going, to energizing it.
Paul Rickeard, director of education for the dioceses of Durham and Newcastle, added that the money should be ‘locked in for the next few years at least’ so schools can be sure the improvement team won’t go away. not. Committee chairman Wayne Daley added it was ‘totally myopic’ for ministers to cut funding which had helped turn around a Northumberland school system which was seen as ‘a basket case’.
The Conservative councilor called on the authority’s leadership to fully fund the school improvement team until at least the next county election in 2025, a proposal unanimously backed by the committee. He said: “You can send a very strong message to the cabinet, Guy, that it works. By withdrawing the funding, the government is completely myopic.
The government said in January that part of the rationale for cutting funding was to “create greater parity” between council-run schools and academies. But Earl Daley insisted that all schools in Northumberland are still ‘part of the family’ and should have access to this support whether they have become academies or not.