Agenda item

School Amalgamations and Closures in Southwark

To receive feedback/report from Freddy Vanson, District & Branch Joint Secretary, National Education Union (NEU) Southwark Branch, on School Amalgamations and Closures in Southwark especially with regards to redundancies with a focus on disproportionate redundancies and disciplinary amongst Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) school staff.


The commission first received a report from Freddy Vanson and Theo Whitworth of the National Education Union on school amalgamations and closures covering the following themes:

·  Equalities data on the disproportionate impact of redundancies on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) school staff.

·  Retention and recruitment challenges of teaching staff nationally.

·  School staff workforce diversity not reflective of the diverse backgrounds among pupils.

The commission then asked questions on the following points:

·  Influx and levels of BAME members of the community at the teacher training levels

·  Disproportionate impact of school closures and amalgamations on non-white school support staff and possible mitigation measures from the council

·  Higher number of black staff members at juniors levels

·  Comparison of equality data with schools outside Southwark and also comparison of more recent data with 2018-2020 data

Freddy explained to the commission that anecdotally and only from personal experience it is clear that more young black teachers tend to leave teacher training as a result of lack of support with work place issues, when compared to their white colleagues.


Freddy agreed with the commission that the trend based on the two schools closures in Southwark indicate disproportionate impact on non-white school support staff; however a clearer picture on the levels of this impact would be attained during the course of the next municipal year. Theo explained to the commission that support staff are more vulnerable with regards to efficiency saving measures implemented by schools prior to any discussions of schools closure or amalgamation. Freddy further explained to the commissions that very few schools have Teaching Assistants (TAs’) any more, TAs’ in schools helped deal and support with accidents in class so the teacher could continue teaching. Furthermore, Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP) funding for students with special needs would provide similar support in classes, however the back log of EHCP applications and the time taken to receive such funding is a barrier for providing more support in classrooms.


Freddy explained to the commission that black school staff struggle to get into position of leadership within education and trends in the data indicate this. Southwark Schools Alliance initiative have a training programme for black leaders in education which helps black staff overcome some of these barriers. The commission heard from Theo that one of the factors for disproportionate representation of black staff within teachers and senior leadership is a result of Southwark’s hiring policy which is inadequate in promoting diversity.


The commission pointed out that the blind application process within Southwark’s hiring policy should lead to non-discriminatory and non-prejudicial selections, however the commission also considered that this could also result in lower numbers of BAME teaching staff due to fewer numbers of BAME applications. Freddy explained to the commission that there might be a case to consider applicants under the equalities protected characteristics to be selected based on the needs of the school staff body demographic which would be a step towards positive discrimination. More recent equality data will be gathered in the coming year.


The commission then asked further questions on the following themes:

·  Source of equality data

·  Lack of applications from BAME applicants and causes for being unsuccessful; Senior leadership roles and job description tailor made for white school staff

·  Possible initiatives through the careers team within schools to promote applications from ethnic backgrounds

·  Impact of the falling rolls and possible school closures and amalgamations, discouraging BAME staff from applying for senior roles.

·  Losing expertise in supporting SEND pupils due to redundancies in school support staff

Freddy informed the commission that casework data was collated himself and rest of the data is sourced from Southwark Council. The reasons for fewer appointments of BAME staff is a combination of job advert wording, fewer numbers of application and fewer selections of BAME applicants.


Theo agreed with the commission that vulnerable children are losing special needs support and expertise due to redundancies in school support staff, however, special needs schools are in a better position with ratios of children to staff, hence their budgets have more protection. Freddy explained to the commission that Teaching Assistants have a wealth of 1 to 1 experience with pupils which cannot be trained in a limited time and ideally such jobs provide more value for money and need to be protected.


Freddy explained to the commission the lack of ethnic minority leaders in senior management does impact the number of applicant from young BAME people in the community. Motions related to campaigns like ‘Look like Me’ are in process of being submitted to the NEU, this would also involve the careers team playing a big role in promoting BAME staff. However, Freddy informed the commission that there are fewer issues in hiring for senior roles due to higher wages, there is an increase in middle managers within academies leading to the loss of 3 TA’s for one assistant head teacher.


The commission then asked further questions around the following points of discussion:

·  Reasons for high number BAME staff leaving schools due to discrimination and disciplinary and mitigation measure that the council could adopt.

·  Demonstrable qualification through training programmes for TAs’ with more 1 to 1 experience

·  Higher number of BAME representation on the governing body; bias on the school interview panel for hiring Headteachers and senior school leaders.

The commission heard from Freddy that the trend in casework data do indicate that there are higher numbers of BAME staff leaving schools and there is a need for more legislation, guidance and support from the council in ensuring that schools carry out Equality Impact Assessments (EIA) regularly and especially during redundancies. On training for TAs’ the commission learnt that there are Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programs run by the schools and Special Educational Needs co-ordinators (SENCo) also provide training but more needs to be done.


Freddy informed that the commission there are fewer issues when the governing body is more reflective of the staff demographic. The commission agreed to request data from the council’s human resources team on schools that indicates a higher number BAME staff leaving.


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