Harrogate school to take strike action over funding

The Grove Academy's David Hamilton, who will vote for strike action for the first time in his career over changes to the high needs education budget.
The Grove Academy's David Hamilton, who will vote for strike action for the first time in his career over changes to the high needs education budget.

Staff at Harrogate's Grove Academy are preparing to take strike action in a bid to draw attention to the funding plight affecting the institution.

Employees at the academy are balloting across its three unions on whether to strike next month in response to funding cuts implemented by North Yorkshire County Council earlier this year as the authority grapples with chronic government underfunding. .

Among those who will be involved if the strike goes ahead will be instructor David Hamilton, who has worked with children in the Harrogate district for more than 35 years, being awarded an MBE in 2008 for his services to the community.

"I have never supported strike action before in my career but this situation is so serious I think I have no other choice," he said.

It comes after the county council voted in February in favour of adopting a range of measures to overhaul its high needs budget, as the authority aims to claw back a predicted £5.7m overspend attributed to government underfunding.

The restructure, the county council says, has an emphasis on driving down exclusion rates, in a move that will see prevention funding shifted from its pupil referral service to new school partnerships with mainstream schools.

Coun Patrick Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s executive member for education and skills, said earlier this year: "Permanent exclusions have risen significantly, despite our investment in the pupil referral service of over £4.7m each year."

"The present system is not working.”

However, Mr Hamilton said a range of services offered by PRUs - including hands-on activities such as camping, cycling, and woodwork classes - were a key point of difference that could be lost.

"All of these opportunities are being ripped away by the cuts and the community is suffering as a result," he said.

Mr Hamilton said the proposed strike date - June 13 - was "cherry-picked" to cause the least disruption to students as possible, at a time when there were no exams.

John Warren, the academy's headteacher, said: “It seems crazy and irresponsible to me that the council is willing to lose people of the calibre and experience of Dave Hamilton when there is a crisis of exclusions in Harrogate".

"The local community will feel the brunt of these cuts when people like Dave are no longer there to help troubled young people".

Last month North Yorkshire's corporate director for the children and young people’s service, Stuart Carlton, said the authority was investing £11.6m of its own funding into the high needs block over the next three years, amid tough economic circumstances.

“Although the county council, at its annual budget meeting in February, accepted a £1.5m saving in the high needs budget for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, North Yorkshire is still investing an additional £11.6m of its own money over the next three years into the high needs block as government funding falls significantly short of the level of demand," he said.

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporting Service