Help for 1,000 pupils at risk due to fund­ing cuts

South Wales Evening Post - - NEWS - LIZ BRADFIELD liz.bradfield@waleson­line.co.uk

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.”

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