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“People are desperate” says Crawley council leader at packed Thomas Bennett public meeting

With almost 200 people in attendance the show of concern from residents was evident at Tilgate Community College.

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Photo by Councillor Peter Smith

Crammed into the small community hall almost 200 people, many standing, listened to numerous speakers all concerned over the cuts proposed by TKAT on Thomas Bennett Community College.

In a meeting that lasted a couple of hours residents patiently listened as councillors and even teachers spoke up.

Speaking to us after the meeting Leader of Crawley Council Peter Lamb expressed his views of the situation:

Peter Lamb, a very interesting evening.

“I think it’s a very concerning evening. But there’s an awful lot of hope that – when you look at the number of people who’ve turned out to express their disgust at what’s being proposed to Thomas Bennett – that the community is about to take the action necessary to save its school.”

More news: Crawley MP explains why he missed Thomas Bennett public meeting

What action can they take though?

“Well with an academy it’s difficult because the power’s no longer in the hands of the local community through their local representatives. Really it’s going to be a case of applying pressure nationally to government in part to take steps, but also directly applying pressure to the local academy chain to make it clear that if they’re not willing to put children first, we expect them to be stripped of their franchise.”

It was a packed auditorium, almost a couple of hundred people here. Did you get the feeling of belief that they can do something if they all stick together?

“I think people are desperate and they will do whatever it takes to ensure that their kids are able to access a decent education in Crawley.”

Do you think that includes pulling their children out of the school?

“The problem is there’s nowhere really to go with those kids. It’s all well and good talking about choice but as things stand we know another secondary school is going to be needed in the town in the next few years because we’re already at capacity. Really, parents are left without much of a choice. The only thing we can do is fight and make it clear that if someone anticipates us to support them representing us, an elected office, we expect them to make the effort to ensure kids get a decent education.”

We caught up with several other councillors who spoke at the meeting:

Councillor Carlos Portal Castro for Tilgate said:

“It was very interesting. I think we had more support than was expected. It was a full house. The main point of what everyone wants is they want to get rid of the academies. It’s like the snowball – once it starts rolling the problems only going to become bigger and bigger. The teachers and the students are losing out for the big CEO’s salaries which is obviously what’s happening with this particular trust.

So basically education has opened a business. When I stood up and spoke, I suggested that we should use this situation that’s happening with Thomas Bennett and use as an example that the academies are no good for education, that it should go back to the authorities to have control so that way at least we can put forward the representatives that we elect to take responsibility for what they are doing to the education so when it’s not working we can let them know.

But what I said about tonight was let’s all get together, contact the friends that could have their students or relatives in another school throughout Crawley or West Sussex because it is more than one – it’s not just Thomas Bennett – and I believe that there’s more schools this could happen to. So, all the parents should get together, all the children should get together and basically go knock on their door and say ‘You don’t mess with our education’ because otherwise you’re just going to get kicked out.

Councillor Peter Smith said:

“It’s been a fantastic meeting and it’s really brought on by very sad circumstances. The people of Tilgate and the parents of children at Thomas Bennett are extremely upset at what TKAT are doing to the school.

I have a TKAT school in my own Ward. I was talking to them when they wanted some money from the council to help them do a garden up. But I’ve got other issues and now they won’t see me at all. There’s no way to find out what’s going on.

As the spokesperson for the NEU, the union for teachers, said they’re not allowed to tell the public what’s going on because of their contracts and then they’ll have problems. What we’re trying to do is organise the parents – the public. It’s our money that’s being spent and it’s our money that’s being wasted on high salaries and cuts while the teachers are struggling to get paper to teach the children.

We had an appalling example from Councillor Duncan Crowe the county council who said he knows nothing about it and there’s nothing he can do. Well I’m sorry that’s not the case. I’m trying to do something for the school in my Ward and I think he should do better.”

One resident who asked to remain anonymous said:

“I get the impression that a lot of the parents and a lot of the teachers who work there – a lot of the people who turned up today – were very galvanised by what was being suggested and what was being said.

Sadly, the cuts that are being proposed by TKAT are going to be devastating and it will have an impact on the students: future students, current students and it will sadly be a real shame.

We know a lot of students have approached a lot of staff. They have asked staff about what’s going to happen and who’s leaving. Unfortunately, it’s having an emotional impact already.”

A facebook page has been setup for anyone wishing to support the campaign against the cuts. https://www.facebook.com/SaveThomasBennett

Education

Crawley Headteacher pleads with parents to challenge election candidates over school funding

Michael Ferry, who is Headteacher of St Wilfrid’s school in Crawley, has penned a letter to pupils parents encouraging them to seek answers over the problems of funding in education.

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Parents of pupils attending St Wilfrid’s school in Crawley have been sent a letter by the Headteacher Michael Ferry.

In his letter Mr Ferry asks parents to push all political candidates up for election in Crawley about funding issues for schools.

In his letter Mr Ferry says:

“St Wilfrid’s is a very successful school with a strong reputation within Crawley and West Sussex as a whole. Since 2015, I have been forced to make significant cutbacks in order to be able to set a “balanced budget” year on year.

The results of such cutbacks can be seen starkly in the reduction of the number of full time equivalent (FTE) teachers at the school; in 2014 we had 66, starting in September 2019 we had 55! Some of these reductions have been through a formal re-structuring process, others by deciding not to replace a teacher when they have left and some because there is simply a recruitment and retention crisis in the profession across a broad range of subjects.”

Referring to the upcoming election he says:

“In the coming weeks you will undoubtedly hear terms such as “more money in education than ever before!” and “levelling up” from current ministers and undoubtedly there will be “promises” from all parties in their manifestoes.

The reality is that I have to make savings year on year, as any increases in funding either real or projected are simply not enough to keep pace with the rises in costs.”

Mr Ferry finishes his letter with listing out four points he says he has identified to help inform parents and encourage a debate with candidates:

  1. Special Educational Needs & Disabilities (SEND) The recent report from the Education Select Committee can be accessed via www.publications.parliament.uk/pa.cm201920/cmselect/cmednc/20/2003.htm
  2. Current announcements from Government promise an increase in funding of £2.6bn in 2020/21, £4.8bn in 2021/22 and £7.1bn in 2022/23. These are not adjusted for inflation and only represent increases in “cash terms”. Any future government would need to increase these figures significantly and ensure that future investments are protected against rising costs. As an example, the £7.1bn projected increase 2022/23 equates to a “real terms” increase of £4.3bn once you have factored in future cost pressures.
  3. Post 16 funding for Sixth Form students must be addressed. Despite the recent announcement of a small increase of funding per student, which is hugely welcomed, it will require significantly more investment in schools and Sixth Form Colleges to ensure that further cuts in the curriculum offer are not needed and that the breadth of subjects on offer can be rich and varied.
  4. There is a recruitment crisis in teaching across many subjects, especially in the cores subjects of Science and Maths, but also in many other areas including RE, MfL, Design Technology (including Food Technology), Computers Studies, in fact, trying to recruit in any subject is exceptionally difficult and increasingly becoming more expensive. As an example, FTE teacher numbers have fallen by over 10,000 in the last four years with almost a third of teachers leaving the profession within 5 years of qualifying. Any future government must set out clear plans to address this issue and ensure that sufficient real terms funding is made available as necessary eg. If any party “promises” to increase salaries for teachers to aid recruitment, it must also provide the year on year real terms funding for this.

You can read the full letter here by clicking here.

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