Cash-strapped Corby schools to open reduced hours from September due to ‘financial pressures.’

A new management team took over at Corby Business Academy last year.
A new management team took over at Corby Business Academy last year.

Several schools in Corby are considering opening for fewer hours because they can’t afford to sustain their existing hours.

Others across several trusts say they have no choice but to make redundancies to survive.

Corby Business Academy, which is run by the Brooke Weston Trust, is asking parents what they think of its plans to slice half an hour off each school day and rejig lessons from September.

As well as cost-savings, the Trust said that the move could help staff and students find more time to pursue extra-curricular interests including the school’s award-winning orchestra.

Several other schools, including primaries, are also believed to be facing a choice between shorter hours and staff redundancies. We are not naming those schools because some parents are, as yet, unaware of the plans.

Recent analysis by the respected independent research organisation the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that total school spending per pupil fell by eight per cent in real terms between 2009/10 and 2017/18.

Additionally, the Government has ordered schools to increase teacher pension contributions by 40 per cent from September. The DfE says it will fund this for the first year, but future funding is uncertain and it is likely that schools will have to eventually meet the cost from their own budgets.

Many schools across the country have started running shortened days because it allows them to cut back on support staff and teaching assistants without making teachers redundant. It also saves on lighting and heating bills.

Corby Business Academy has already asked parents what they think of plans to open school between 8.40am and 3pm, instead of the existing hours of 8.40am to 3.30pm.

Parents received a letter which asked them for their thoughts, saying that the school believed the changes would be ‘beneficial to the school community’ and would ‘have a positive effect on their child’s education’.

The letter went on: “The proposed changes meet the statutory teaching requirement of 25 hours per week teaching time for all students.

”We will also be in a position to introduce a wider range of academic and enrichment based opportunities for students.

”A further justification for the proposed change is to prevent teaching staff redundancies whilst reducing staff costs to ensure that the academy remains financially viable.

”The changes are necessary following an increase in external costs, largely teachers’ pay and pension contributions.”

The school’s consultation ends on June 20.

A Brooke Weston Trust spokesman said: ‘Our staff are our most valued resource. Unfortunately the national financial pressures facing schools, which have been widely publicised, have resulted in a restructure of our staffing needs. This is in line with the Trust staff structure which is regularly reviewed to ensure we are able to provide the best opportunities for our students. We have put support into place to assist our staff at this difficult time.”

The school later (Tuesday, May 28. 7.15pm) released a second statement which said: “Brooke Weston Trust is currently consulting on a curriculum review in two of its secondary schools. The focus is on improving our out of class opportunities for students at the end of the teaching day from Mondays to Thursdays.

”Whilst the review does include looking at finance, it is mostly about making a wider offer to students and protecting the wellbeing of our staff.

”We are also looking at a limited restructure of some support staff roles in our primary schools and this consultation is also underway. The Trust is proud of its track record of responsible financial management and we continue to operate prudently.”

Corby MP Tom Pursglove said he would make urgent contact with the Brooke Weston Trust to relay concerns raised with him and that he would do all he can to support parents, urging the trust to pause and review their proposals.

He said that he was suprised by justification on the grounds of funding, claiming Northamptonshire’s per-pupil funding will rise by more than the national average.

He said: “Whilst I am mindful that there is always more to do, significant boosts in education funding locally have been made by the Government, but we must always work together in our community to improve opportunities for every young person to get a good education, drawing upon their particular skills and talents, and help them succeed.

“As someone who was comprehensively educated locally, I am passionate about this issue, and most recently, I held a meeting only a fortnight ago with local school leaders to discuss a number of issues relating to improving local education that I am assisting them with, and all Northamptonshire MPs meet regularly with the schools minister to discuss progress.

“This is my focus, rather than engaging in political knockabout on this important issue, when the actual figures tell a very different story to the rhetoric.”

Corby’s Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Beth Miller, who attended Brooke Weston School, said: “Schools in this constituency are losing millions as a result of cuts by this Conservative Government which were voted through by our own MP.

”While many teachers are trying to do their best, they are being put in such a horrible situation by this chronic underfunding. It beggars belief that in 2019 and in the sixth richest country in the world, our schools are having to choose between closing early or making redundancies to save cash.

“I was fortunate to be educated through a time of investment in our schools and I want the same for kids growing up today - their opportunities shouldn’t be stifled due to the incompetence of our MP and his Government.

“Remember, these cuts are a political choice - the Conservatives have chosen to cut taxes for the richest at the expense of cuts to our schools and children’s aspirations.”

Corby Business Academy appointed an entirely new management team last year. Two Ofsted reports, in 2016 and another earlier this month said that the school required improvement because teaching was inconsistent.

The DfE does not need to be consulted on changes to the school day but it says that parents must be consulted and changes must be reasonable.

The numbers..

In 2017/18 the Brooke West Trust as a whole spent £47.88m but received only £43.85m from the DfE and other sources - a funding gap of £4m. During the previous academic year, the trust received £49.48m in funding and spent £46.61m.

In the last academic year the Trust spend £201,000 on restructuring costs including £94,000 in redundancy and severance payments. The previous year it spent just £45,000 on restructuring - which was mostly made up by a single severance payment.

The trust, which employs 1,112 staff including 427 teachers, aims to cut staffing and operational costs by 10 per cent by 2022.

There are 27 staff at the trust’s ten schools who earned more than £60,000 in 2017/18 - a number that has dropped by four since 2016/17 and is expected to drop further this year.

During 2017/2018, trust chief executive Dr Andrew Campbell earned a salary of between £160,000 and £165,000 plus pension contributions of up to £30,000 per year. This year’s figures have not yet been made publicly-available.

Corby Business Academy cost £7.5m to run last year.

The school opened in 2008 and was designed by renowned architect Norman Foster.