Leader's warning to academy trust

Thomas Bennett Community College
Thomas Bennett Community College

Thomas Bennett Community College should be returned to local authority control if TKAT can’t put the school’s frontline services first.

That was the message from Peter Lamb, leader of Crawley Borough Council, at a public meeting on Wednesday (April 25).

Some 150 parents, pupils and staff gathered in Tilgate Community Centre for the meeting, organised by the National Education Union (NEU).

The discussion centred around plans by TKAT (The Kemnal Academies Trust) to cut £987k from the school’s budget – a move the NEU said would see at least 22 teachers and support staff lose their jobs.

The school was rebuilt under a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) for which it still pays £1m per year, as well as paying £176,000 per year to TKAT, which it joined in September 2012.

Mr Lamb said: “Every Crawley school is underfunded and Thomas Bennett was not the only one rebuilt under PFI, but not every school is proposing cuts of this scale. When it comes to making ends meet, parents expect schools to put frontline services first.

“TKAT needs to deliver on that expectation or the Department for Education should strip them of the franchise and hand back control of the school to the local community.”

The NEU has called on West Sussex County Council to call an urgent education committee meeting and for TKAT to explain to the council what was being done.

Regional officer Glenn Kelly said: “It’s no good the county council acting like Pontius Pilot, saying that as it was an academy they couldn’t do anything. The trust is given £6m a year to run this school.

“This is taxpayers’ money which the county council have a duty to see that every penny is being spent on the education of our children and not lining the pockets of big business.”

An NEU ballot for strike action involving teachers and support staff is due to close on Thursday (May 3).

The union vowed that, if TKAT did not resolve the dispute it would “take the action needed to force the trust to think again”.

A county council spokesman said Deborah Myers, director of education and skills had raised concerns with both TKAT and the Regional Schools Commissioner.

She added: “Giving children the best start in life is one of our top priorities so we are working to fully understand how any changes to the school will impact upon children’s learning and educational experience, as well as that of staff employed by the academy trust.

“As Thomas Bennett Community College is an academy all decisions on its future are made by the academy trust in agreement with the Regional Schools Commissioner.

“Our lack of jurisdiction in this situation and many others relating to academies and free schools is one of the reasons we argued against the government’s plans to make all schools academies.”

A TKAT spokesman said they were not invited to the meeting and recognised that the “proposed restructure” was “a challenging time for all involved”.

They added: “However, our priority is ensuring the high standard of education provided continues under TKAT, and that includes avoiding disruption to pupils, parents and teachers where possible.

“We are disappointed in the decision taken by the NEU to proceed with ballot action, but the consultation process we are currently in means maintaining an open dialogue to decide on the best way forward for the school.

“We were not invited to attend the public meeting, but have already been in touch with the local MP and local councillor, and would encourage all those with further queries to come direct to the school, or TKAT, to ensure concerns are addressed whilst ensuring teaching can continue.”