Help for 1,000 pupils at risk due to funding cuts
UP to 13 jobs and the specialist support for around 1,000 children in Neath Port Talbot schools are at risk due to funding cuts to a service which helps some of the most vulnerable children in the county.
The Minority Ethnic Achievement Service (MEAS) and Traveller Education Service (TES) run by Neath Port Talbot Council employs between 11 and 13 people and helps ethnic minority, Gypsy, Roma and traveller learners.
The services rely on a £250,000 grant from the Welsh Government, but changes to the allocation of funding from the Welsh Government has left the council with just £85,500.
The council’s cabinet member for education Peter Rees called the situation “deplorable”.
Speaking at full council on Wednesday, he said all staff within the service were now at risk of losing their jobs with a consultation having begun to only provide the services which were met by the grantfunding from April 2019.
He said: “It’s acknowledged that the cessation or reduction of funding to the provision will have a detrimental effect and impact on a cohort of pupils, staff and communities.
“There are risks that the pupils currently benefiting from the travellers education services and MEAS support could be more marginalised, their achievement and attendance rates reduce, and exclusion rates increase.
“This could put increased pressure on our inclusion services, social services, health, education and welfare officers.”
Councillor Rees said while there was a total grant of £8.7 million for local authorities in Wales, the vast majority was going to just four councils - Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Wrexham - with the aim of regional services being set up.
He said: “As I understand it working towards a regional service has not been progressed because the four authorities are seeking assurances from Welsh Government on sustainable funding in the future.
“This remains a matter of negotiation and owing to ongoing uncertainties the education director has no option other than to reduce provision in accordance to the grant being made available to us.”
Councillor Rees said Neath Port Talbot’s own allocation was £85,500, adding: “We will continue to lobby Welsh Government for a resolution in this matter.”
Speaking after the meeting, he said: “I think it’s deplorable this funding has been cut. It will affect the services we provide to 1,000 pupils.”
Mark Fisher, branch chairman of Neath Port Talbot Unison, said the county had a large percentage of Gypsy, traveller and minority ethnic groups in schools in Margam and Briton Ferry who relied on the funding.
He said: “The council has evidence to show support workers provide a fantastic service engaging with these ‘hard to reach’ learners.
“We want all young people to be able to reach their potential and support workers are able to champion the needs of all learners, particularly the vulnerable or disadvantaged. They build strong relationships with families, schools and the communities they serve.
“A reduction in funding will be devastating and job cuts are already being discussed with the trades unions. We urge the Welsh Government to reconsider their decision to cut this funding.”
The service supports ethnic minority learners at risk of underachievement as well as learners with English as an additional language. The service works with all pre-school, primary, secondary and special schools and the local college.
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We have argued that support for these learners must be a core part of local education services. However, we recognise that this will take time and that’s why we have agreed £8.7 million in this financial year to support all local authorities make the transition to more sustainable services.
“We have also signalled our intention to provide a further £8.7 million in 2019-20. We have welcomed the assurances provided by the Welsh Local Government Association that local authorities will continue to prioritise frontline school delivery including support for our ethnic minority, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller learners.”