Sewell Park Academy plans staff cuts to avoid £500,000 deficit

PUBLISHED: 11:10 29 March 2016 | UPDATED: 11:10 29 March 2016

Sewell Park College headteacher Penny Bignell.   Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Sewell Park College headteacher Penny Bignell. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2015

A city high school is planning a cull of senior and support staff just months after becoming an academy in a bid to avoid a £500,000 deficit next year.

Sewell Park College. Picture: Denise BradleySewell Park College. Picture: Denise Bradley

Sewell Park Academy, which joined the Right for Success Trust in September, blamed its financial difficulties on falling pupil numbers, and mistakes in calculations made by Norfolk County Council in the run up to its conversion.

The council said it was working with the trust to address its concerns, but said it had acted in good faith.

A consultation document seen by this newspaper, which outlines the proposed cuts, said: “The reason for the proposed staffing adjustment is due to two factors, ie the falling roll numbers at the school leading to a significant decrease in Education Funding Agency funding, plus the failure of the local authority to factor the level of costs of running and maintaining the school into their restructuring programme and budget setting prior to the transfer in September 2015.”

The school is projecting a £517,145 deficit in 2016-17, rising to £1,927,269 in 2018-19, and has launched a formal consultation over plans to restructure staff, which include removing the positions of deputy head and two assistant heads, and getting rid of some support staff and cutting the hours of others.

School faced troubles in recent years

Some know it as Blyth-Jex School, and to others it is Sewell Park College. For those with longer memories, predecessor schools include Blyth Secondary School and Alderman Jex Boys’ School.

But in recent years, the school now known as Sewell Park Academy has faced a number of problems, including falling rolls, the sudden resignation of headteacher Gavin Bellamy days before the start of the 2014-15 year, and a damning Ofsted report that put it in special measures in November 2014.

In the summer of 2014, Norfolk County Council replaced the school’s governors with an interim executive board, and under interim executive head Jeremy Rowe, and then permanent head Penny Bignell, there had been better news.

Ofsted monitoring inspections in February and July 2015 praised progress at Sewell Park, and last summer its headline GCSE pass rate rose by 8 percentage points.

The interim governors took some controversial steps to put the school on a secure financial footing before it became an academy, sponsored by the Right for Success Trust, including closing its sixth form and restructuring its staff.

But now, just months after converting, it finds itself in difficulties once again.

The school had 761 pupils before it became an academy, and expects to have 504 in September 2016.

The consultation document said the aim to was to “downsize the whole school structure to serve the needs of around 500 pupils only whilst striving to ensure that quality teaching and learning is still being delivered”.

In a statement, headteacher Penny Bignell and the Right for Success Trust said: “The academy is addressing the predicted deficit in the budget at this point in time because action must be taken to prevent a deficit budget next year.

“This has come about as the numbers on roll for the next year are far lower even with a higher intake for 2016-17 than predicted by Norfolk County Council.

“It is a situation that we are disappointed to inherit but action must be taken to support the teaching and learning so that outcomes on children continue to improve.”

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said: “We are working with this trust to address the concerns they have raised, however we are confident that the interim executive board, leadership team and local authority officers acted in good faith and liaised closely with the incoming trust to ensure the school converted in good order and in a timely manner.

“The interim executive board [which replaced governors in summer 2014] was praised by Ofsted in its final inspection report before conversion for its strong leadership role, operational capabilities and managing the transfer to academy status smoothly. In the same report the county council was also commended for its excellent support and challenge during this period.”

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