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Schools face struggle to plug gaps in ‘bankrupt’ Birmingham

Cuts to children’s services at “bankrupt” Birmingham council will leave already stretched schools “plugging the gaps”, teachers have warned.  

Birmingham has proposed £300 million of cuts after issuing a section 114 notice last year, meaning it is unable to set a balanced budget. Council documents this week revealed £63 million of savings over two years from its children’s and families budget.

This includes a review to save £2.2 million from careers and youth services, such as preventing knife crime, and hiking trading services fees for schools by 10 per cent. 

Nearly £2 million will be saved from reviewing transport for school children and post-16 transport packages will be reduced to save £7 million. 

The Labour-run council will end a £8.4 million early help contract with Birmingham Children’s Trust, which also runs its children’s services. 

The trust said it will continue to fund early help such as family support teams – but to do so would have to make its own savings and can only maintain about half of the funding for voluntary organisations.

Schools Week analysis shows the spending gap between early and late intervention services by councils in England widened to more than £7.7 billion last year – up from £3.9 billion in cash terms in 2015-16.

While spend on early help had risen by £2 million, expenditure on late intervention had ballooned by £9.9 billion. 

Research commissioned by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) last year found that late intervention services – such as youth justice and safeguarding – accounted for more than 81 per cent of all children’s services spending in 2021-22, up from 58 per cent in 2010-11.  

The NCB added in its report last year: “The implications are clear: children are receiving help after issues escalate, rather than preventing them.”

David Room, Birmingham’s National Education Union secretary, said that while cuts would not impact school budgets directly, “there is no doubt that the loss of the wraparound support that so many children and young people rely on will have a negative impact on their ability to learn, be happy and healthy and in some cases even attend school at all. 

“Schools in the city will do their best to ‘plug the gaps’, but with school budgets under significant pressure this will be very difficult to achieve indeed.”

‘Something is badly wrong’

A Schools Week investigation last year revealed how schools have been forced to fill the public services void, with demand for several services including mental health, food banks and additional educational support soaring since the Conservatives took office.

Geoff Barton, general secretary for the ASCL school leaders’ union, said schools had become the “fourth emergency service” with under-resourced schools “doing their best” to provide support in-school. 

“Where local authorities are in a position of having to make major cuts to children’s services, it’s a sign that something is badly wrong,” he said.

Cllr John Cotton, the Birmingham council leader, apologised “unreservedly for both the significant spending reductions”. 

He added: “We have no alternative than to face these challenges head on. And we will do whatever is necessary to put the council back on a sound financial footing.”

Meanwhile, councillors in Nottingham are due to vote next month on plans to shave £1.2 million from their education budget. The local authority effectively declared itself bankrupt last year. 

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