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The Government cuts in public services have hit all Local Authorities (LA's) hard, although it is arguably the smaller Unitary Authorities and the schools within them who have lost the most.
Being in Blackpool we have seen school support teams decimated to the point where the officers within the service are spread very thinly and have huge areas to cover which means less support on the ground. For some, they have had to offer Service Level Agreements but again with schools having to source services previously provided by the LA for free, there is little money to go around and uptake has been poor. In this sense, the Government's claim that frontline services won't be affected, is patently untrue.
This scenario has greeted every Local Authority in the country but the response from schools and LA's has varied widely.
In some bigger LA's where the relationship between LA officers and schools is remote and suspicious, LA's have told schools that they will have an external provider of services such as SERCO or Capita implemented to replace the LA. Presumably this means schools paying for previously free services and having a diet of offered services imposed.
However in Blackpool the picture is very different and the LA needs to take great credit for their response to the cuts which has been difficult to manage on a human level.
The LA and Headteachers in Blackpool have always enjoyed a good working relationship. Difficult decisions and challenge goes hand in hand with genuine support for making things better. The common cause to which everyone subscribes are our Blackpool children. Blackpool now sits in the top 6 of the most deprived areas of the country and the LA and schools are committed to making things better for the children and their families. Children in Blackpool are not described as school X's children or school Y's children but as Blackpool children. Instead of looking at petty school to school issues we concentrate on Blackpool issues.
It was in this spirit and faced with drastic cuts to the LA that Heads of primary schools in Blackpool met to find a solution. As so often it is from within that solutions are found. The headteachers set up what has become known as the Blackpool Primary Partnership. The group is made up of Controlled, Community and Voluntary Aided schools as well as an Academy. There are no differences in type of school when we face the challenges that we do in Blackpool.
The group set up with the aim of supporting Blackpool children whichever school they were in. We have 6 strategic groups chaired by Heads and Deputies as well as a Business Managers group which consider all the essential elements of providing for children and families in Blackpool.
CPD is a huge issue for schools and with the loss of the LA and much of the capacity for delivering CPD, schools have now clustered and are sharing expertise to the benefit of all. Essentially the weakest school or teacher in one area is given access to the most advanced in the same area and standards rise. Schools are discussing school issues which help in raising standards at a local level rather than rushing to attend the latest course on the latest national initiative.
Schools, given the shift in power from LA's to schools could easily cut the LA out, but the relationship with the LA in Blackpool is as strong as it has ever been. Similarly the LA could feel even more isolated but have encouraged the heads in the BPP to do what they are doing and are working in partnership.
Our Director, David Lund and his Assistant Director Learning and Achievement Sue Harrison should be applauded for the mature response to the cuts and the development of the Blackpool Primary Partnership.
Despite the human cost in redundancies, the cost to schools financially and the enormous pressures and decisions, all parties have continued to put the Blackpool child at the heart of all the decisions that have been made.
I believe that this is a model relationship and one which, being based on trust and mission, could be successfully adopted nationwide.
For further information on the Blackpool Primary Partnership please contact me by googling Blackpool St Nicholas or contacting me through my Twitter feed @andymellor64