Cash-strapped Croydon Council sent back nearly £250,000 of education funding unspent to Government last year.
The cash represents almost one-quarter of Croydon’s pupil premium, intended for some of the borough’s most in-need children.
And probably most worrying of all, when we asked some of the Labour-run council’s most senior elected councillors why this significant amount of funding had been unused, they could not immediately provide an answer.
Such a disconnect, between the people supposedly in charge at the council – the elected councillors – and the council staff who manage the day-to-day workings, is not unique.
The pupil premium under-spend comes from a borough which until last month was happily spending tens of thousands of pounds in employing Baker Small, the specialist legal firm, to frustrate and deny children with Special Educational Needs and disabilities from receiving proper assessments and specialist teaching.
The Times Educational Supplement reported last month that, nationally, a total of £2.5million pupil premium money was clawed back by Government after it was not spent by local authorities.
Croydon was one of 41 local authorities who did not spend all the money they were given in 2014-2015.
Pupil premium plus raised the funding for looked-after children to £1,900 per pupil from April 2014, intended to assist in improving educational achievement among some of the lowest performing groups of pupils in the country.
According to TES: “Croydon returned £248,379, nearly a quarter of its pupil premium plus funding. A spokesman for the council said that there were peaks and troughs in demand throughout the year, and Department for Education money was sometimes received too late in the year to spend.”
In some local authorities, the reason for the under-spend was because of a mis-match between the number of eligible pupils in previous years and DfE’s latest allocation. Croydon Council has not been able to confirm the reason for the under-spend, though if it is because of the borough having fewer eligible pupils, the miscalculated amount represents a difference of 130 pupils.
A DfE spokesperson said: “We expect virtual school heads to work in partnership with schools to ensure this funding is allocated and used effectively to meet children’s needs. Virtual school heads are held to account by Ofsted who monitor all aspects of the education of looked after children, including how this funding is used.”
Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, told TES: “It is seriously concerning to hear that some of this funding is not being utilised and spent how it was intended – on improving outcomes for the most disadvantaged pupils.”
The nearest Croydon has got to explaining the wanton wasted opportunity of the unspent £248,379 came at the last council meeting when Labour’s cabinet member for education, Alisa Flemming, suggested it was “because schools don’t spend it wisely”.
Maria Gatland, Croydon Tories’ shadow cabinet member for education, said, “It is very concerning that if there is a problem with schools, rather than working with and supporting schools on how to use this extra funding, Councillor Flemming prefers to blame schools and send back this huge amount of money.”
Council officials have been tasked with delivering a report on the matter by Sean Fitzsimons, Labour’s chair of the council scrutiny committee, in time for its October meeting. “I hope it will shed more light on this issue,” he told Inside Croydon.
Meanwhile, Inside Croydon understands that Baker Small has finally been taken off the last remaining SEN tribunal case in which they were representing Croydon Council.
Baker Small had been on a £27,500 quarterly retainer with our council, essentially to lead on cases brought by parents of SEN children who needed greater educational support than the council is prepared to provide. One parent who encountered Baker Small’s tactics in the tribunals on behalf of our council described them as “inhumane”.
But the attitude of the firm’s founder, Mark Small, caused widespread disgust and forced several local authorities dispense with their services.
Tony Newman, Labour-run Croydon’s council leader, said that his local authority would do the same. Yet within a fortnight of Newman making his pledge to parents, council officials were admitting that Baker Small were back on the books, something confirmed in an email dated July 13 “for one single case where… we did not have the capacity to defend”.
It is not the first instance in which the borough’s elected councillors do not appear to be fully aware of what the council’s paid officials are doing on their behalf. This found its way into the Rotten Boroughs column of Private Eye, to Newman’s obvious embarrassment. Since when, the council’s legal department has suddenly found that it does now have the “capacity to defend” the case in question and Baker Small are no longer being used.
- From The Guardian: Simply ‘inhumane’: the law firm that fights parents seeking help for children’s special needs
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