GENE BRODIE, our education correspondent, reports on some disturbing developments at the borough’s state primary schools
Croydon Council is charging the parents of some primary school children more than £3,500 per year just so that they can receive their legal right to be taught to read and write.
Parents are worried that the charges introduced by the Conservative-run Town Hall could be extended to a wider range of education services which are supposed by law to be provided free-of-charge, as the council struggles to balance its books as it faces even greater cuts to local authority funding.
Croydon Council has started to charge fees to some parents whose children are attending remedial literacy lessons at the borough’s centre, which is sited alongside Purley Oaks Primary.
The work of the centre is invaluable. It takes children who cannot read and transforms them into confident learners. In the words of one 11-year-old quoted on the centre’s website: “It felt good to pick up a book and start reading by myself. I feel happy and scared at the same time about going to secondary school but I feel more confident now I can read and write.”
Such an important service comes at a price. The centre is run by Croydon Council as a traded service. It operates as an in-house company run by the council which “sells” specialist literacy remedial teaching to schools in an internal market. The cost to schools is £46 per 90-minute session. Children normally attend two sessions per week at an annual cost of more than £3,500.
State primary schools are funded by the local authority, in this case Croydon. The money each school receives is called its “delegated budget”. Schools complain that this rigid funding formula can result in unfairness between apparently similar schools. In 2012-2013 the average, per pupil, funding in primary schools in the borough was £4,092. Yet the amount received by Croydon’s schools varied from £3,340 to £6,898 per head.
Schools buy sessions at the Literacy Centre and pay for these out of their delegated budgets. In practice, all that happens is that public money is moving in a circle from the council to the schools, to the Literacy Centre, to the council. The process ought never involve any charge being made to parents.
But in a significant, and seemingly increasing, number of cases the Literacy Centre’s fees are being demanded from parents.
If the fees are not paid, the child does not get the remedial teaching they need.
Schools, faced with cuts to their budgets combined with increasing roll numbers, are finding themselves under high financial stress. Unable to afford the Literacy Centre fees, with the collusion of Croydon Council, they have opted to start demanding the fees from parents.
If the parents can’t afford to pay, their children do not get the specialist help that they need.
About 30 per cent of children encounter difficulties to learn to read and write, for a variety of developmental reasons. Given the right help, most will catch up. Everyone agrees that early intervention is essential if a child’s school career is not to be irretrievably blighted. Croydon Council’s fee-charging for reading lessons is putting the futures of dozens of the borough’s children in serious jeopardy.
Children attending the Literacy Centre at Purley Oaks already have their school days disrupted, since the council has opted to centralise its remedial service at one location and so buses the children to the teachers. The Centre is the only specialist teaching provision for mainstream school children available in the borough. It caters for a maximum of 60 Key Stage 2 and 3 children annually. The Centre estimates that its work is so effective that 80 per cent of pupils referred to its lessons require help for just one year to get them back on track.
“Children who come to us become more confident in class and are significantly more engaged in learning. Many achieve expected literacy levels for their peer group and require much less direct support in school. All our children make progress,” the Centre’s own publicity states.
There are more than 30,000 KS2 & 3 children in Croydon. In any one year, the Centre can teach fewer than 1 in every 500 such children. Many regard this level of provision as hopelessly inadequate, particularly given Croydon’s notoriously low literacy levels .
And now, for providing what they are required to do by law, Croydon Council is trying to charge hard-pressed parents thousands of pounds per year. One parent in South Croydon, Anthony Kennedy, when he discovered that state-educated children were being charged for their essential literacy lessons, lodged a formal complaint.
“Pause to take this on-board,” Kennedy said. “In Croydon, the council is taking children out of their home schools, transporting them on long journeys to the Literacy Centre where they are taught to read and write, and then is charging parents fees of £3,500 for this ‘service’,” he said.
“More terrible still: if the parents cannot afford the fees then their children are told that they cannot have teaching help that they need. Instead those children, drawn largely from the poorest, most disadvantaged in the borough, are thrown on to the scrap heap at the age of eight, and left to flounder in their home schools, while they await future processing as a ‘NEET’ once they reach 16.”
Local authorities are banned by law from charging for education, according to the provisions of Section 451 of the Education Act 1996:
“Prohibition of charges for provision of education
(1) This section applies in relation to education provided at any maintained school for a registered pupil at the school.
(2) Where the education is provided for the pupil during school hours no charge shall be made in respect of it.”
But Kennedy suspects that Croydon Council is cynically using the fact that it has moved its remedial literacy service to one venue, rather than have its specialist teachers visit the pupils at their own schools, to allow it to make the charge. “All agree, that if, as previously happened, and as still happens in most boroughs, the remedial reading and writing classes take place at the child`s home school then any attempt to charge parents would be unlawful, he said.
“Here, however, Croydon says it can levy charges on parents because they have moved the remedial teaching out of schools and into the Literacy Centre. Because the Centre teaches only literacy, and does not offer the full breadth of the National Curriculum, Croydon say it is not a ‘maintained school’ for the purposes of Section 451 and, as a result, the protection against charging for education in subsection (2) is not engaged. The result is that they can, and do, levy fees on parents.
“Is it right or reasonable – was it ever intended – that teaching an eight-year-old to read and write in their classroom, can be done free of charge today, but tomorrow, by the simple, cynical expediency of moving those self-same lessons to a non-school venue, the local authority can impose whatever charges on parents it likes?
“Is the principle of free education to be slayed by such a deceitful sleight of hand?”
Coming to Croydon
- Norwood Society Talk: West Norwood – a place of change, May 15
- David Lean Cinema: The Invisible Woman, May 15
- Broad Green local election hustings, May 15
- Coulsdon West local election hustings, May 16
- Mrs McMoon and Signor Baffo at Stanley Halls, May 17
- Croydon RFC charity memorial day, May 17
- Warehouse International Palywriting Festival, May 17-18
- Riverside Animal Centre Open Day, May 18
- Coulsdon East local election hustings, May 19
- St Giles’ primary school open morning, May 21
- David Lean Cinema: The Rocket, May 22
- Songs From The Ledge, Spread Eagle Theatre, May 23
- Greek Myths: stories and mask-making, May 27
- Howard Marks: Scholar, Smuggler, Prisoner, Scribe, May 29
- David Lean Cinema: Dallas Buyers Club, May 29
- Tales from Ancient Greece, Upper Norwood Library, May 29
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, May 31
- Stitch Pitch quilting workshop, Upper Norwood Library, June 2
- Croydon Tech City “summit”, June 6
- An Improvised Murder, Spread Eagle Theatre, June 7
- Lakes Playground Action Group fun day, June 14
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, June 15
- Norwood Society Talk: The Concrete Church, June 19
- Classic Car Show at Purley Rotary Fields, June 22
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- Warnings to the Curious, Spread Eagle Theatre, June 27
- South Norwood Allotments open day, June 28
- Fragile, Spread Eagle Theatre, July 24-26
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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