HEADTEACHERS and MPs have met with ministers to discuss “punitive” pension rules preventing schools converting to academies.
School governors from Berwick down to Blyth joined MPs Guy Opperman and Sir Alan Beith to persuade the Government to intervene and prevent council chiefs hitting schools wishing to be academies with new higher pension payments.
The Journal revealed earlier this year that council bosses were placing 20% pensions surcharge on non-teaching staff when schools convert, saying that academies’ funding is not secure enough.
That cash-grab meant that the Berwick Academy was forced to take an extra £90,000 from money which should have gone on children’s education. Meadowdale Academy has also been handed punishing pensions surcharges, with the Bedlington school losing £66,000 a year taken from teaching budgets.
Other schools have said they simply could not afford to convert to academies – schools handed more freedom to teach in the way they see fit – because of the council’s rules.
Now those heads have met with Liberal Democrat education minister David Laws at a meeting arranged by Mr Opperman.
The Hexham Tory said: “It is not acceptable for the council officers to prevent schools from securing their future by treating an academy less favourably when compared to a maintained school. This is a flagship coalition policy and the council approach to the pension schemes is holding back the schools in Northumberland.”
Sir Alan Beith said: “This is a perhaps unforeseen aspect of the academy conversion scheme, but I hope the minister and his team will be able to help resolve the situation quickly.”
Berwick Conservative and school governor Anne-Marie Trevelyan has been pushing for the council to stop considering academies as high risk, and said there were signs the Government would issue new guidelines to prevent Northumberland adding the surcharge.
The Berwick Academy governor said: “Without these changes in guidelines from central government we have been seriously concerned that our academies might not survive for the long term in Northumberland due to the huge extra costs imposed on us by county hall and that new academies could not open up.”
Attending the meeting were governors representing schools from Berwick, Alnwick, Morpeth, Bedlington, Cramlington, Blyth, and Haltwhistle, including Dr Roger Vaughan of the three Rivers Trust, Dr Clare Mills, a governor from the Aln Federation of Community Schools, Mrs Trevelyan and Mike Routledge, headteacher at the Haltwhistle Middle and First Schools.