The Alternative provision, Springwell Harrogate, known better to the local community as the Grove Academy Pupil Referral Service, will keep its doors open but will be forced to operate on less than half its previous budget.
The school in Harrogate provides education for pupils who struggle in the mainstream classroom. Most pupils have special educational needs and often very complex emotional needs.
The school has remained “Outstanding” in 4 consecutive OFTSED inspections but the speed and severity of the cuts proposed meant that last Christmas there were fears it could close entirely. For two years the “Save the Grove” campaign fought a public battle to highlight the plight of the school and other special needs services facing similar cuts. The campaign delayed the cuts but could not convince local or national government to row back on them.
As a consequence, 8 classroom staff will be made redundant this Christmas. This will bring the total number of staff lost since the campaign started to 14.
Alex Boyce, spokesperson for the “Save the Grove” campaign said:
It is a tremendous relief that this safety net for the community has not been completely cut away. However, from January it will only be able to offer a dramatically reduced service. Highly skilled staff with decades of experience will be lost and the curriculum will have to narrow. The crisis will have a significant knock-on effect for local mainstream schools. With insufficient funding to manage the complex needs of some students and a dire lack of alternative schools, like the Grove, their hands are tied.
Sadly, our campaign has also led us to the grim realisation that the cuts at the Grove Academy are just the tip of the iceberg. Many similar services across the county which rely on funding from the special needs budget have suffered a similar fate. Provision in the county is sorely lacking and the replacement of frontline services with helplines and online provision is a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. Until the ongoing crisis in special needs funding is properly addressed by government, children will have their needs ignored and their families will continue to be frustrated by the system.
Kay Heffron, mother of Abbie Heffron, who attended the Grove Academy, and Anthony, who is currently attending, said:
The Grove has been great for my children Abbie and Anthony. The staff have been accommodating of their needs and very supportive of my family. Although the school was only supposed to offer a temporary place, my daughter Abbie ended up staying there over two years whilst I worked to get her the special school place she needed. This process was awful. The endless form filling was nightmarish. Parents should not need law degrees to get their children’s rights met. Now I am battling to get my son the place he needs and it looks likely he will have to be transported out of county at great cost. There simply aren’t enough special needs school places in North Yorkshire.
John Warren, outgoing Headteacher of Springwell Harrogate, said:
I remain deeply concerned at the ongoing High Needs funding crisis. I know first-hand the intense pressures colleagues in schools and social services are experiencing as they struggle to meet the needs of vulnerable young people. The whole system is buckling through years of chronic underfunding.
When the ‘Save the Grove’ campaign first highlighted the broad cuts to children’s services over two years ago, the local and county councils dismissed our concerns. Yet the pandemic has shown the stark truth of just how many desperate families are out there needing help. I fear that some specialist provisions may fail in the next year or so because they are no longer financially viable, despite a time of national need for more community resources to support struggling children.
Dave Hamilton has worked at the Grove academy for over 16 years and received an MBE in 2008 for his dedication to improving the lives of local young people. In 2012 he was made redundant from his role at Bilton Youth club and he now faces redundancy from the Grove.
Dave Hamilton said:
As a former youth club leader at Bilton Youth Club and special needs teacher at the Grove Academy / Springwell Harrogate, I have now the sad distinction of becoming redundant from two key services. These outstanding facilities provided many opportunities for young people and I can recall that many turned their lives around by attending. It is a tragedy that both have fallen victim to short-sighted budget cuts.
I am of course delighted that the Grove will remain open as Springwell Harrogate; I wish it all the success it deserves. I just hope that in the long term the provision will retain its outstanding contribution within the community. I hope I don’t live to see another successful service for transforming young people’s lives destroyed by cuts.
Anne Swift, spokesperson for the National Education Union, said:
The reduction in the number of such committed, dedicated and highly skilled teachers is a catastrophe for the young people and their families. Staff have many years of experience in meeting the needs of the pupils and improving their life chances. We urge the council to think again and maintain the level of provision for some of the most vulnerable pupils in the county.
NYCC Councillor Philip Broadbank, said:
I could not support the closure and restructuring of the Grove Academy and have concerns about the viability of the new Springwell Academy.
We need fundamental reforms to the way local government and services are funded as the current system is not delivering what is needed for current and future needs.
Springwell Harrogate has said it is now viable for the long term and, due to Wellspring’s expertise in delivering alternative provision and economies of scale through partnering up with other similar schools in the trust, the school will continue to deliver a superb standard of education for pupils.
A spokesperson for Springwell said:
Changes to funding were made whilst the school was under the management of the previous Trust. There have been no reductions in funding since Springwell Harrogate became part of the Wellspring community. Any legacy budgeting challenges have been overcome and the school is now on a firm financial footing.
All the changes that have been implemented at Springwell Harrogate are in line with Wellspring’s standard delivery model across the trust and have been proven highly effective in our seven successful alternative academies. This includes the adult – pupil ratios that are benchmarked against Department for Education best practice. The ratios at Springwell Harrogate meet the DfE’s recommendations.
The current funding levels for Springwell Harrogate are in line with a typical model of delivery that is common in alternative provision and PRU settings with similar funding arrangements.
The school is committed to providing high quality education and support for its young people, and is part of an organisation with a strong reputation and specialist expertise in the delivery of alternative provision. Springwell Harrogate will benefit from many economies of scale and partnership opportunities enjoyed by the other schools in the Wellspring family.
Leaders at the school are always happy to talk with parents and carers who have any concerns and will always consider the individual learning, social and emotional needs of Springwell Harrogate pupils.