Parents’ fury over academy chain’s cutbacks at Brooklands Primary School

Parents are unhappy about cutbacks at Brooklands Primary School

Parents at a Blackheath primary school are accusing its academy chain of “a failure of competence” after it announced plans to cut staff who they say are vital to their children’s wellbeing.

Two office staff at Brooklands primary school are understood to be at risk of losing their jobs after Maritime Academy Trust, which runs seven schools in south-east London and Kent, announced plans to centralise its back office functions.

The decision came after the school’s parent governors either resigned or were removed from their roles.

Parents say they are worried about how their children are performing under the stewardship of the trust, which began as a two-school academy for Greenwich borough in 2013.

853 understands that the office staff have been told to accept a 30% pay cut or face redundancy. In addition, the dedicated member of staff who deals with children with special educational needs has left without being replaced.

Parents were told that the school has had to make cuts because it was having to pay for staff wage rises but without getting an increase in government funding.

A letter from the Brooklands Parents Action Group – which represents 160 parents at the school – to the trust’s chief executive, Nick Osborne, says: “Our overwhelming, primary concern at the moment is the risk to the roles of two members of staff at the school. In a school with a small number of staff, high staff attrition, and new headteacher, this concern is very real and unwelcome.

“We wish to make very clear how vital and irreplaceable these roles at risk truly are, and we therefore request that the trust reconsider entirely this course of action and retain the roles with no changes in pay or conditions.”

It added: “The common theme fuelling these concerns appears to be a failure of trust in terms of capability, competence and accountability, in the context of rapid expansion, which puts schools such as Brooklands at a huge and avoidable disadvantage.”

Brooklands school
The school was one of the first members of the Maritime academy chain

‘You can’t centralise putting plasters on grazes’

One parent, Vince Raison, told 853: “I can’t tell you how fundamental the women whose jobs are at risk are. They are the heart and soul of the place – loved by children and parents alike. You can’t really centralise putting plasters on grazes and listening to everyone’s woes and all the subtle things they do to nurture the children, none of which appear in the kind of data that is used to justify budget cuts.”

The group says it was promised there would be no major decisions made without parent governors at the school, and believes there are serious failings in accountability, transparency and oversight at the trust.

Maritime Academy Trust has its roots in a partnership between Brooklands and Millennium Primary School in Greenwich, which began in 2013, with Timbercroft school in Plumstead joining a year later. But since the trust formed in 2016 the original trio has expanded to seven schools – including two in Gillingham, Kent – with an eighth on the way in the new town of Ebbsfleet next year.

Parents have discussed their grievances with the Eltham MP, Clive Efford. The school is based in the Brooklands council estate, between the private Cator Estate and the Kidbrooke Village development.

The school’s chair of trustees, Tiffany Beck, told 853 that the trust’s expansion meant it needed to look again at the way it worked.

“There has been a need to review how as an organisation we deliver key services to ensure consistency, compliance with statutory requirements, and realise better ways of working,” she said.

“We are currently consulting with administrative staff on proposals to centralise finance and HR functions across the trust. Affected staff are being fully engaged in this process as are their trade union representatives. It would be inappropriate to comment on details or implications for any individual members of staff as the proposals have not yet been finalised.”

‘We have not removed parent governors’

Beck insisted that changes to Brooklands’ governing body had been unanimously agreed and parents would be involved in school decision-making again.

“During 2018-2019, the Trust undertook a full review of our local governance structure across our seven schools, looking at ways to ensure maximum impact and effectiveness and in compliance with the rigorous accountability measures in place as a trust. This review was undertaken in full consultation with senior leaders at each school and local chairs of governors. The new structure was unanimously agreed and implemented on 23 April 2019.

“A number of the governors at Brooklands left their roles and we are engaging with the parent body to find new local parent governors. To be clear, we have not removed the role of parent governor and actually, parent governors will make up a greater percentage of the local governing body than previously.”

Asked about the special educational needs staff member, Beck said: “Staffing of the SENCO [special educational needs co-ordinator] role is a school-level decision. It is up to the headteachers who they appoint and the structure that they have. The headteacher is the SENCO, as are many headteachers all over the country, particularly in one-form entry schools. That said, by being part of Maritime, Brooklands has been provided with additional support from both our Trust SEND [special educational needs and disabilities] lead and another SENCO supporting the headteacher. Maritime is fully committed to SEND and inclusion.”

The discontent at Brooklands follows the decision last year of Sherington Primary School in Charlton not to join an academy chain. In the secondary sector, teachers at John Roan in Blackheath walked out for a 13th day of strike action last week in protest at plans for the school to join an academy chain, while there have also been strikes at Halley Academy in Kidbrooke where the Leigh Academy Trust is making redundancies.

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