Parents in Forest Hill School cuts protest

Protestors displaying their placards yesterday. Pic: Harrison Ashman

Furious parents protested this week against cuts totalling £1.3m to be made at Forest Hill school for boys in Lewisham.

A number of parents gathered outside the school on Tuesday to picket in support of striking staff and a group demonstrated outside the Lewisham Council office on Wednesday night.

The 70-strong demonstration included teachers, parents, students and various union representatives all gathered in support, calling for the local authority to step in and help the school.

They are unhappy about an apparent financial crisis engulfing the school which they say has led to staff losses across the board with more potentially in the pipeline.

Joe Cowley, the NUT representative for Forest Hill school at the protest on Wednesday told Eastlondonlines: “Forest Hill school is currently facing an unprecedented financial deficit crisis which has already seen mass staff losses in the administration, the sports staff and the TA’s and now we are facing a restructuring which will see 15 members of teaching staff lose their jobs.”

Cowley pointed out that the loss of staff would have “an obvious impact” due to the “enormous increase in workload that will ultimately undermine the education that we can provide our boys”.

Lewisham council said all schools in the borough were “responsible for their own dismissal costs”, a reference to the redundancies. The spokesman added: “Forest Hill School’s present situation is the result of its past financial mismanagement.”

Joe Cowley addresses the crowd. Pic; Harrison Ashman

Protesters are worried about cuts to special educational needs teaching staff, and argued that cutting these specialist areas of education would result in “many students with additional needs and disabilities unable to access the curriculum.”

Katie Knowles, a member of the Forest Hill school parent’s action group, said parents were “extremely concerned” about the cuts.

She added: “We’ve got fantastic teachers, the boys are doing so well, but if this [the cuts] go ahead and they are forced to cut £1.3m then the members of staff and the boys can only suffer, the education will suffer.  I’ve got a son in year seven and I’ve got three younger boys as well who are in primary school and we were really looking forward to sending them to a great local school, that isn’t looking so great.”

Protestors at Tuesday’s picket. Pic; Louise Regan

According to parents the school has claimed the cuts won’t impact teaching. And protesters and the NUT said they were unclear as to the total budget of the school and how much the £1.3m figure would actually affect its total annual funds.

A member of the Forest Hill school parent’s action group speculated that the £1.3m cuts could take up as much as 16 percent of the school’s annual budget with an estimate budget of around £10m which was based on pupil premiums.

Protestors holding a not our deficit banner. Pic; Harrison Ashman.

Lewisham Council quoted from its funding framework for school – scheme of delegation – from 2010, which stated: “Schools are responsible for dismissal costs; the relevant resources are delegated to schools and the local authority has no central budget to meet such costs”. A spokesperson added: “All schools in Lewisham in the past have met their redundancy costs and this is common practice currently across London.”

Protestors from Lewisham NUT have set up a petition for Lewisham Council calling for their support. They say the council is able to underwrite the school’s debt for three years and many at the protest called for them to do this.

Many different groups came out in support of the protestors and Cowley addressed the crowd over a megaphone. He said: “Thank you to all the other members of the trade unions that have supported us and to members of the local community that have come out to support us”. He invited all present to the meeting in the Catford constitutional hall where the group met to build on their campaign strategy.

Below is a collection of images from the two protests.

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