Council chiefs have been urged to find new cash to keep the county’s highly-respected School Improvement Team going strong, after the government announced it would be axing grant money.
Northumberland’s school improvement service was overhauled after a damning Ofsted inspection in 2013, which concluded that there was a “significant and worrying decline” in school standards in the county and an “urgent and pressing need for significant action to establish and embed a clear vision for sustained improvement”.
Councillors were told that the seven-strong team had “really taken the bull by the horns” and helped lead a massive turnaround in schools’ fortunes.
The number of Northumberland schools rated as inadequate or requiring improvement has dropped from 40 in 2017 to 19 today – a decreasing rate that now makes Northumberland better than the national average, when it had been significantly worse just a few years ago.
But the service faces an uncertain future, with government cash that provides around half of its income soon to be removed.
The Department for Education has already slashed its School Improvement Monitoring and Brokering Grant, which was worth £388,910 in Northumberland, by 50% last month and will end it completely next April.
A report to the council’s Family and Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee warned that it would be “difficult to make up for the shortfall” and that upping the costs to schools of purchasing the service would put more pressure on their stretched budgets .
Coun Guy Renner-Thompson said the authority’s cabinet had asked county hall finance chiefs to find money to protect the service, currently used by 118 schools.
The Tory-run council’s portfolio holder for children and young people, said: “We are committed to keeping the service going, turbo-charging it.”
The committee’s chairman, Wayne Daley, added that it was “totally short-sighted” of ministers to cut the funding which had helped turn around a Northumberland school system that was considered a “bit of a basket case”.
The Tory councillor called on the authority’s leadership to fully fund the school improvement team until at least the next county elections in 2025, a proposal supported unanimously by the committee.