NEWS: Erdington schools and teacher’s jobs at risk from ‘funding crisis’ and spiralling Covid costs

Words & pics by Ed King – profile pic of Jack Dromey supplied by MP’s office

Schools across Erdington are facing a ‘funding crisis’ due a lack of financial support from Government and the spiralling costs of Covid, a recent survey from Erdington MP Jack Dromey has found.

Contacting headteachers across the constituency the report discovered half of all Erdington secondary schools, primary schools, and maintained nursery schools (MNSs) are under severe financial strain – with 60% expecting to set a deficit budget in 2021/2022.

93% of schools contacted agreed the lack of Government funding ‘will have a negative impact on the quality of education offered.’

Whilst a shocking 100% of respondents said their school ‘does not have enough resources to meet the needs’ of students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) – leaving some of the most vulnerable young people in their care at the most risk.

Extra costs incurred during the pandemic, such as the extensive cleaning and signage needed to keep schools Covid safe, pushed many already thinly stretched educational budgets to breaking point.

Additional staffing costs have also been a major factor with 92.7% of schools citing this as an extra financial pressure during the pandemic – 63.7% reported staffing as the area in which they have incurred the most additional expenditure.

The stark reality means many schools are having to consider reducing the number of staff at all levels and pulling back non-educational services and extracurricular activities.

Educators across Erdington are calling on the Government to address its financial support strategy for schools and maintained nurseries, with 92.7% wanting extra funding to cover additional costs caused by the pandemic.

Castle Vale Nursery has been fighting educational budget cuts and funding concerns since before Covid, stating added financial pressure from the pandemic could be the ‘final nail in the coffin’ for many educators.

Castle Vale Nursery Headteacher, Sally Leese, said:

“This pandemic has hopefully highlighted to our government what is important moving forward and that is what future we can give to our children. Early years and schools need to be properly funded so they can do the best for children, not just the best they can manage.

“Early years has been woefully underfunded for years and this is starting to see nursery schools closing. COVID costs have just been the final nail in the coffin for many.

“Many children under five have missed out on life experiences and even spending time with other children. This is an opportunity for our government to spend money in a way that will benefit our society for the future. Fund all aspects of education properly and the country will reap the benefits”.

Elsewhere on the Vale, TiggyWinkles Day Nursery is set to close at the end of July despite the early years provider fighting hard to keep the nursery open – including a ‘significant cash injection’ from The Pioneer Group.

TiggyWinkles staff have been using their last few weeks to find nursery placements for all the children in their care, as well as seeking for alternative employment for themselves.

Jack Dromey MP for Erdington, whose office conducted the recent survey, said:

“This survey highlights the serious consequences a decade of underinvestment in our educational system is having on the education of our children and young people.

“Even before the pandemic, rising levels of child poverty meant that annual improvements in pupil outcomes had started to recede, and the narrowing of the attainment gap between less and more privileged students had stopped, and possibly even gone into reverse. The COVID-19 crisis has compounded the sense of urgency.

“Urgent action is required, therefore. Yet in spite of all the rhetoric, the Government is failing to back their promise to ‘level up’ education with the action needed to ensure its realisation, leaving schools without the funding and resources they so desperately need.

“Enough is enough. The Government must commit to funding schools properly in the autumn Comprehensive Spending Review. It is time to stop viewing education spending as a cost and to start seeing it as an investment in our children’s, and by extension our country’s, future”.

Castle Vale Nursery Headteacher, Sally Leese, talking to Midlands Today (Nov 2018)

For more on from the Department for Education visit www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-education

For more from Castle Vale Nursery visit www.castlevalenursery.co.uk

For more from Jack Dromey MP for Erdington visit www.jackdromey.co.uk

NEWS: Erdington parents ‘threatened with fines’ for children not returning after half term

Words & pics by Ed King

Ed’s note… The images used in the article are archive pictures of schools in Erdington and ARE NOT RELATED to the people who have supplied quotes or their children.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, or have any updates or developments from a school in Erdington, please get in touch – you can send us a direct message via the Erdington Local Facebook page or email sue@erdingtonlocal.com

As schools reopen after the half term holidays, families across Erdington are being ‘threatened with fines’ if they still feel the classroom is not COVID-19 safe and keep their children at home.

Despite another national lockdown closing the country from 5th November, parents and carers are being told that all young people must go back to school this week – or literally pay the price for any absences.

Birmingham City Council had previously taken the stance to not impose the fixed penalty notices, which had been set by the Department of Education in July, electing to wave the fines for the first half term.

But as school gates open for the last few weeks of the Autumn term, families keeping their children at home could be charged up to £120 for every empty chair they now leave in the classroom.

With increased concerns over the rising cases of coronavirus, many Erdington parents and carers feel they should be allowed to choose what is best for their children – without facing even more debt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Natasha Court has two children at primary school in Erdington, she says: “I believe it is completely wrong that the City Council are threatening parents with fines for actively carrying out their duty of care to protect their children whilst still ensuring they are being educating them at home.

All children need an education, 100%, but a ‘one size fits all’ approach is not appropriate, particularly in the midst of a worsening health pandemic.”

She adds: “I have two children with health conditions who would both be at heightened risks of serious complications should they catch COVID-19. I have my own health conditions too. No matter what schools do, they cannot protect our children in a class of 30.

Fines will hit the financial and mental wellbeing of the families who are already struggling. So the ‘alternatives’ they are left with are to send them to school and be put at risk, or de-register and be let down by the system that is supposed to help ALL children get a strong start to life through education. This is not right nor fair.”

Another Erdington parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I have been threatened with fines from the Council if I now don’t send my child into school.

This is completely unfair. How can they tell me school is safe for my child when they have already had cases in the school?

With cases and deaths rising sharply now all I want to do is protect my whole family, yet I am unable to do that due to potentially being fined.

Attending school during a pandemic should be the parents’ choice to make.”

Schools across Birmingham open for the final weeks of the Autumn term from Monday 2nd November.

As set by the Department of Education in July this year, fixed penalties of £60 can be imposed for any absentee child – increasing to £120 if not paid within 21 days.

Minister for Education, Gavin Williams, announcing fines on LBC Radio (first broadcast on July 29th)

For the latest information on coronavirus restrictions in Birmingham, issued by Birmingham City Council, visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/coronavirus_advice

For the latest information on the lockdown starting from 5th November, issued by Government, visit www.gov.uk/guidance/new-national-restrictions-from-5-november

NEWS: North Birmingham Academy headteacher alleys parents’ fears after COVID-19 scare

North Birmingham Academy has been hit by a COVID-19 scare after members of staff tested positive for the virus.

Two teachers were found to be positive and are self-isolating, along with several pupils.

The headteacher of the College Road secondary school, Laura McLauire, wrote to parents to allay fears about a more widespread closures.

Mrs McLaurie wrote: ‘We have been made aware that two members of staff at the academy have unfortunately tested positive for COVID-19 and therefore are self-isolating for a period of 10 days.

‘We have since been working closely with Public Health England who advised that individuals who have been in close contact with these members of staff should isolate for 14 days as a precaution.

She added: ‘As one of the affected members of staff has confirmed that they have had no close contact with students and the other colleague had not yet started teaching at the academy, Public Health England confirmed that only members of staff who have had close contact will be required to self-isolate as a precaution.

‘Public Health England are otherwise satisfied as robust safety measures are in place at the academy, including social distancing and the arrangement of students and staff in bubbles to limit contact between individuals, the academy can remain open to all others.

‘Furthermore, please rest assured that we here at the academy are taking every precaution to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all our students and staff, including regular and focused cleaning of our academy, social distancing and ensuring good hand and respiratory hygiene.

She added: ‘I appreciate that upon hearing such news that some parents and carers might naturally feel concerned. However, I would like to reiterate that the health and wellbeing of your child is our number one priority and we will do everything in our power to ensure their safety.’

On Monday, the school informed parents it would be unable to provide face masks to pupils from Tuesday.

The school tweeted: “From tomorrow we will be unable to provide face masks to students. As Birmingham is in local lockdown it is a legal requirement for students to wear a mask unless they have a medical exception. Please ensure all children arrive with a mask for the safety of the whole #NBAFamily”

Parent Kelly Stone angrily replied on Twitter: “Three time’s now my daughter has told you about her asthma and how she struggles with her face mask that isn’t actually a legal requirement in school. Three times she’s been dismissed and is teachers raise their voices, nice one, great role modelling!”

She further told Erdington Local: “We were told about the staff testing positive but there are four children in my daughter’s Year 7 who are off self-isolating which we have not been told about.

As parents we should be kept informed at all times.”

NBA headteacher Mrs McLauire is holding a Q&A today at 4pm on YouTube about all COVID-19 related issues since the school reopened.

To find out more about North Birmingham Academy, visit www.northbirminghamacademy.e-act.org.uk

FEATURE: Concerns and mixed emotions across Erdington more children go back to their classrooms

Words by & pics by Ed King

From 15th June, more Erdington children will be brought back into their classrooms – as Government guidelines encourage ‘face to face time’ with Years 10 and 12, whilst giving primary schools ‘greater flexibility to invite back more pupils.’

But as the school doors are increasingly creaked open ahead of the summer holiday, parents and carers across Erdington are still voicing their concerns – according to a constituency wide survey conducted by Erdington MP, Jack Dromey.

When asked, nearly two thirds of Erdington’s parents and carers had doubts about their children returning to the classroom – with over 50% stating: ‘I do not think children should be going back and I will not be sending my children back.’

Over half of these fears were rooted in educators being unable to implement adequate physical distancing, with the ever present worry that there would be ‘an outbreak of the virus in school.’

Approximately a third of parents and carers were worried about a ‘lack of PPE and safeguarding’ – with a similar concern expressed over there being no ‘testing available’ for young people returning to traditional education.

But a significant number of parents and carers identified concerns over mental health and wellbeing, with 56% stating ‘Children finding the social distancing measures upsetting / unsettling’ as a pertinent concern.

In response to questions about what would build confidence, around a quarter of parents and carers wanted clearer ‘information’ and ‘understanding’ from both Government and educators – with 56% stating ‘Headteachers, teachers and teaching unions being confident it’s safe’ would help allay their fears and concerns.

However, as voiced by much of the country, a significant fall in new cases reported or the introduction of a vaccine would be the best way to build public confidence – with 73% stating these as the most inspiring sign posts on the road map through the coronavirus crisis.

In response to the findings of the survey, Jack Dromey MP – who has represented Erdington in the houses of Parliament since 2010 – issued a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, addressing ‘the actions that are urgently needed to instil confidence in parents that schools are safe for their children.’

‘There can be no doubt about it,’ the letter continues, ‘we need to ensure a return to school as soon as possible. But crucially, this can only be done when it is safe. Children across the country are missing out on vital education, especially those who are due to take exams this year.’

Erdington Local also reached out to parents and carers across the constituency, asking what school life was like for the children who had returned to their classrooms.

My youngest son went back to nursery last Monday,” tells Sarah Hodgetts – whose son, Harry (4), attends Paget Primary School Nursery.

His school have put so many new procedures in place that I had originally said no but changed my mind and so glad I did. School is very safe and even at age four he understands and follows instruction. His mental health has been the best improvement; he’s a happy child again. 

We’ve gone from him worrying about everything to sleeping well again, wanting to play at home more and more settled in himself, definitely did the right thing allowing him to go back to school.”

Laura Crowley, whose child Jessica Rose (6) went back to Birches Green Junior School on Monday 15th June, tells “I have not long collected my daughter from school. She came out with a huge smile on her face and when asked if she’s has a good day she replied ‘yes’ –  she also said ‘social distancing was fun’ which reassured myself that teachers and staff are trying to make the whole situation a positive one for the children.”

Alongside a “staggered approach to children coming in and out of school using the one way system,” Jessica Rose is also “now in a class of seven rather than 32… called their ‘family bubble’.

All children have their own desks and packs containing any resources they will need for the day, to ensure they’re not touching/sharing equipment. They’re not allowed to take coats into school and are required to be in a clean uniform every day; PE will also be done in uniform to avoid PE bags been taken into school. 

The school communicated all changes very well, on the school website a video was uploaded showing these changes to allow us parents to show these to our children prior to sending them back to school.”

However, local mum Maria Rooney has been keeping her son Billy (5) at home since the lock down began – choosing to continue home schooling and not send him back to Abbey RC Primary Schoolas the medical advice seems to be at odds with Governmental direction. Press have warned there may be an imminent second wave of the virus so we chose to keep Billy at home for the moment.

We start ‘school” at 10am each morning,” continues Maria, “and try to do around 2.5 hours each day with snack breaks in between.

We also have a 4 year old who’s just left nursery so coordinating activities to suit both has been my biggest challenge. We’ve mostly created our own ideas for learning – bugs and habitats in the garden, outer space and our planet – along with the maths apps from school, craft making and art. 

The communications from the school have been adequate and they’d kept us updated as they’ve been updated. I believe the schools don’t know the government’s plans until the last minute – which has been much more frustrating for the school staffing community rather than the parents.”

But whilst parents and carers are making individual decisions about the safety and schooling of their children, one thing seemingly unites them – the need for clearer guidelines from Government and more support for educators, many of whom have been forced into making radical changes to their classrooms with little practical advice.

A clarion call for clarity reiterated by Jack Dromey MP, who states: “I am calling on the Education Secretary, and the Government, to work with the Labour Party to build a cross-party consensus around the return to school that would give parents the confidence that sending their children back is safe. 

We need to end the chaos and confusion and build a unity of approach around the return to school for the good of the nation.” 

For the latest news and developments from the Department for Education, visit www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-education

For more from Jack Dromey MP, visit www.jackdromey.org