WestEndExtra

The independent London newspaper

Schools are hit by cuts and ‘lost’ pupils

Redundancies, closures and social cleansing cited after ‘crisis’ report

27 September, 2019 — By Briony Pickford

The Extra reported earlier this year how council leader Nickie Aiken wanted to turn the tables on the exodus of families from Westminster

A CHRONIC shortage of social housing has led to plummeting primary school admissions and a “big increase” in teacher redundancies, union chiefs have warned.

Schools across Westminster are this September shuttering classrooms, laying off staff and axing specialists who work with children with special education needs. One school, an academy, shut for good earlier this month.

The cause of the crisis is being blamed on a steady decrease of the official birthrate in Westminster over the past 10 years. Couples are fleeing high rents and pollution in Westminster to bring up children outside of London.

Ruth Gibson, district secretary of Westminster’s National Education Union (NEU), said: “The impact of a decrease in funding in schools is terrible. They have had to cut speech and language services, special needs support and music teachers’ hours just this year.

“I’ve had eight redundancies this year, which is a big increase from 2018. In May we had three redundancies within one week. It just boils down to lack of funding within schools. If the children are not there, then the schools will not get the money. These are our children, they are the future, some of them may not have much of a home life, they need these opportunities.”

Schools receive funding based on how many pupils are admitted. When admissions drop, current staffing also becomes unmanageable.

A report debated by councillors in City Hall this week said there were 411 fewer admissions to primary schools this year, down 4 per cent on last year.

Ms Gibson said: “The biggest factor in school numbers dropping is the families living in social housing being moved out of the borough. There used to be a lot of children from social housing but when the bedroom tax came in, families were moved into smaller houses in areas such as Heathrow, Hounslow and Redbridge.

“These children commuted an hour to school in the hope that they would be moved back into the borough when the council found them a new home. Sometimes this did happen but most of the time it did not.”

According to the report, five schools in Westminster have been affected by the falling rolls. Most are to reduce their intake from two-form to one-form entry schools.

Ark Paddington Green formally closed on August 31, with pupils in Nursery to Year 4 moving to the King Solomon Academy.

Wilberforce Academy, Hallfield Primary School and Burdett Coutts CE Primary School have had significant cuts to their published admission numbers – Wilberforce Academy, reducing from 60 children to 30 in each year this September. It had been operating at 50 per cent of its capacity, the council report said.

One school, Minerva Academy, part of the REAch2 multi-academy trust, lost so many pupils it shut in July 2018.

In June the Extra reported how leader of the council Nickie Aiken had wanted to turn the tables on the exodus of families from Westminster.

She said: “If we don’t address these liveability challenges, families will leave our city and it will die.”

A council spokesman said they were looking at “creative but realistic options to address falling rolls” at schools including capping admissions, amal­gamating schools, and having more federations with shared headteachers.

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