Highbury Grove teachers demand answers over job cuts as head Tom Sherrington vigorously defends school
PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 March 2016 | UPDATED: 12:04 24 March 2016
Serious concerns have been raised about staff redundancies at an Islington secondary school as the Gazette can today reveal it has come under fire over a “perplexing” black hole in finances.
Highbury Grove, one of Islington’s most popular secondaries, is consulting on job losses to find savings of £700,000 from this year’s budget.
But teachers and union representatives have demanded a halt to proceedings until questions over the school’s “finances, procedures and pupil welfare” are answered.
Headteacher Tom Sherrington has been forced to defend the school’s position, saying money has not been “frittered away”.
He says cash reserves have been used to protect jobs in the face of falling government funding, but cuts are now necessary to balance the books.
“Due to the scale of required saving there is, unfortunately, little alternative but to achieve part of the savings required by staff reductions,” he said.
“It is regrettable that this will lead to potential redundancies.”
The Gazette can today reveal:
– The school has moved from being £600,000 in the black in 2014 to needing to make £700,000 in-year savings.
School budget: Key figures
The Gazette asked headteacher Tom Sherrington about Highbury Grove School’s current financial position.
What has the school’s surplus of £600,000 been spent on?
The school has spent from its reserves over the last two years to maintain current staffing levels, by approximately £200,000 in both 2014-15 and 2015-16.
Other savings have been made in non-staffing areas of the budget.
What savings are needed in the future?
The school budget projection for 2016-17 identifies the need to make savings in excess of £700,000.
This figure is based on projections of spending at the level of 2015-16 expenditure.
The projection of total expenditure is expected to be £10.3million, with projected income of £9.6m.
How will the savings be made?
Due to the scale of the required savings there is, unfortunately, little alternative but to achieve part of the savings required by staff reductions. It is regrettable that this will lead to potential redundancies.
– The financial position as explained to staff has been described as “deliberately vague”.
– Some free music lessons funded by Highbury Grove, a specialist music school, may be under threat.
The precarious state of the school’s finances was discussed at a meeting hosted by the Islington branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) on Thursday, attended by 89 staff at the school.
They unanimously voted to demand a halt to redundancies at Highbury Grove due to “massive confusion and upset” over a lack of transparency about staff restructuring and “deliberately vague” finances.
GCSE pass rates
Concerns have also been raised about Highbury Grove’s declining academic performance since Tom Sherrington became head in September 2014.
The school only just met the government’s benchmark GSCE pass rate last summer of 40 per cent of pupils achieving five A*-C grade GCSEs including maths and English.
Islington Council issued a warning notice to Highbury Grove and a report in November 2015 said there was a strong need for a clearer “vision” from its leadership.
The school published a new vision statement called Ambition for All this term, and in February the council wrote to the head to say Highbury Grove was making “good progress in addressing previous areas of weakness and is well-placed to continue the process to improvement”.
Mr Sherrington said: “We’ve had record interest in sixth form places and remain over-subscribed for Year 7.”
Ken Muller, joint secretary of Islington NUT, said: “We are all perplexed and concerned about how this surplus of £600,000 has turned into a deficit so quickly.
“It’s highly unusual. I would say I can’t remember it happening in Islington in recent times.”
It is understood staff affected by the redundancy proceedings were due to be informed on Tuesday and the process will be completed by the end of the summer term.
The Gazette has been told the job losses will affect visiting music teachers who work at Highbury Grove, teaching assistants and behavioural support staff.
It is feared the loss of classroom assistants in particular will impact on children with the greatest need at a school whose intake includes 70 per cent of pupils who qualify for free school meals.
A well-placed source at the school said: “There is concern that decisions being taken at the moment are not in the best interests of the children.
“The teaching assistants and support staff are the ones facing most redundancies and it’s really those most vulnerable children, the ones with disabilities and greater learning needs, that will be hit hardest.
“The school is an inclusive environment for the local community and it’s important that we uphold our highest standards for the students who are most vulnerable.”
Changes to the flagship music tuition programme at Highbury Grove are also being considered, including more group lessons and the introduction of fees for those parents who can afford to pay.
The headteacher has vigorously defended Highbury Grove’s position saying the school, like others nationally, is experiencing huge pressure on budgets caused by factors outside its control.
“Highbury Grove is facing cost pressures due to increase in pension and national insurance costs, along with general increases of teacher and support staff pay, which are not funded by the schools budget,” said Mr Sherrington.
“We have protected teaching and learning, pastoral care and teachers’ conditions as the top priorities and there will be no teacher redundancies.”
Scrutiny has fallen on Mr Sherrington, who joined the school as headteacher in September 2014 after previously having held the top job at King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford.
He has a high public profile due to his “Head guru teacher” blog and is described as riding the wave of a new “Tweetocracy” of teachers who blog and use social media to engage in educational debate.
But the Gazette understands his hard-line policy on discipline has divided opinion.
In the first week after Mr Sherrington’s arrival at the school 300 pupils a day were being given detentions. Up to 100 detentions a day are reportedly still being handed out.
The headteacher said: “The behaviour policy is working very well. Standards of behaviour around the school are high and are improving continually.”
Islington Council confirmed redundancy proceedings are underway at Highbury Grove.
A spokesman said: “The total number of redundancies will depend on the outcome of this process.”