CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Axed: Classroom mentors who help vulnerable schoolchildren

Move to cut back on roles criticised by unions and groups tackling knife crime

21 May, 2018 — By William McLennan

Camden’s education chief Angela Mason: ‘This is what happens when school budgets are cut’

PLANS to axe classroom support staff who help some of the most vulnerable primary school children have been branded “outrageous” as campaigners called for the decision to be reversed.

The cost-cutting move, which is the result of growing pressure on school budgets, will hit pupils who need extra support and are at risk of losing touch with mainstream education, unions claimed this week. Camden Unison, who are representing four “learning mentors” whose jobs are on the line, said that they work with “some of the children most at risk of being perpetrators or victims of knife crime”.

The cuts come amid a renewed focus on providing early intervention for troubled pupils in response to the rise in youth violence that has claimed the lives of four young men from Camden this year.

Hugo Pierre, of Camden Unison, said that learning mentors work with children who have been “subjected to domestic violence, parental or sibling bereavement, or those at risk of exclusion”. He said: “We think the council could step in to keep these posts with ringfenced funding as part of its early prevention work to tackle youth violence.” Although schools have pledged to give responsibility for the at-risk pupils to other members of staff, Mr Pierre said he feared it would “fall by the wayside”. Jobs are under threat at Edith Neville in Somers Town, St Dominic’s in Queen’s Crescent, Kingsgate in Kilburn and Beckford in West Hampstead.

The positions were cut last year at St Michael’s in Camden Town, St Mary’s in Kilburn and Argyle in King’s Cross. There are six other schools that have learning mentors, which were originally introduced in the most deprived areas of the borough.

The campaign to save staff has also won support from teachers. Gerald Clark, secretary of the National Education Union in Camden, said: “We are concerned about any cuts in school provision that are being forced on schools by the government.” He added: “There is a corresponding impact on teachers’ workload of cutting support staff.”

Save Our Boys, Save Our Girls, a parents’ group set up in the wake of a night of violence that claimed two lives in February, said that the cuts were “outrageous”.

Founder Gemma Fox said: “I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that they want to cut any funding for any form of support for young people, especially in that age range and those that have been identified as needing that personal touch of extra support.”

Camden’s education chief, Angela Mason, said: “This is what happens when school budgets are cut. Increased funding cuts from central government have meant that schools have had to make difficult decisions, and a number have been reluctantly forced to remove this post. These schools, supported by the council, aim to continue to provide the same continued level of pastoral and academic support to vulnerable children in different ways and to support more children through new ways of working.”

The Department for Education said that the new National Funding Formula will lead to schools in Camden receiving an “increase in funding of more than £1.07million when the formula is implemented in full” next year. But school leaders said that funding failed to keep pace with inflation and other rising costs, resulting in a “real-term funding cut”.

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