A high performing academy in one of Britain’s poorest neighbourhoods is being forced to reduce the length of its school day due to Tory cuts, HuffPost UK can reveal.
The City Academy in Hackney, east London, is to slash half an hour from its daily lesson time from September to ease staff costs.
The school, which was second in the country in 2014 for student progress, will start its lessons 20 minutes later and end them 10 minutes earlier.
Instead of starting at 8.25am, pupils will be taught from 8.45am. Lessons will end at 3.30pm instead of the current 3.40pm on three days, and 4.30pm instead of 4.40pm on two days.
One parent said the measure proved the Tory cash crisis was now creating educational ‘vandalism’ in areas of most need.
City Academy is thought to be the first mainstream secondary school in the country to slash its teaching hours, and could now prompt others to follow suit.
Jeremy Corbyn told HuffPost UK: “We already know the Conservatives’ education cuts have meant teachers losing their jobs, class sizes going up, parents being asked for money and children going without basic equipment.
“For schools to now have to cut the school day to save money shows a system in crisis and brings shame on Theresa May and her government. The only way to reverse this damaging trend is to vote Labour for a government for the many not the few.”
The drastic move - unearthed as part of HuffPost’s ‘Beyond Brexit’ series - follows deep cuts to the school’s budget from central Government, with Conservative plans forecast to reduce spending by £844,000 by 2022.
Principal Mark Malcolm informed parents of the decision, making clear that budget cuts were to blame.
“In the light of recent cash freezes and ongoing financial pressures, the Governing Body has reluctantly decided that the best way to maintain our high standards and the quality of education for students, while making the necessary economies in the coming year, is to cut the length of each lesson by 5 minutes, to 55 minutes for a single period,” he wrote.
“From 1st September, the school teaching day will be reduced by half an hour as a result of this change.”
The head stressed that the school library will still open at 7.30am and close at 6.30pm.
The funding squeeze, caused by the Government failing to provide extra cash to deal with higher costs, was compounded by changes to the national funding formula unveiled by ministers.
Despite an extra £4bn commitment in the Tory manifesto, the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies predicts that inflation and higher student numbers will leave schools facing cuts of 7% between 2015 and 2022.
City Academy, which is sponsored by the City of London Corporation and Canary Wharf-based consultancy giant KPMG, says the reduction in school hours is the best way to get a balanced budget. Its class sizes are also increasing.
The school insists that it already offers more teaching time than most schools and has smaller class sizes, but parents have been dismayed at the desperate measure.
City Academy, which serves two of the poorest wards in Hackney and has some of the highest levels of child poverty in the UK, has been hailed as an educational success story since it opened in 2009.
A flagship of the ‘London Challenge’ that turned around schools in Hackney and the rest of the capital, its GCSE results are among the best for state schools in the country, with 83% of children getting A*-C, including English and Maths.
Stephen Webster, chair of the Parent-Staff Association, told HuffPost UK that the Government’s funding cuts were “a moral crime”.
“This school has invested heavily in its children. The success is clear, with children of all abilities doing brilliantly. It’s crazy to reverse that,” he said.
“It makes me very angry when public institutions like this work so hard. To vandalise it by essentially withdrawing resources, it’s a moral crime.”
Parent governor Sophie Conway, who is also a local Labour councillor, added: “I think it is an utter disgrace. I don’t know how you can have a local authority that has gone from one of the worst in the country to one of the best and then justify this.
“We have some of the highest child poverty levels in the country. We know the difficulties our children are facing. We have pumped the money into education because it is needed to redress the balance on their behalf.
“We do everything we can to mitigate it, but taking that money away is going to have an effect. You are losing about £1,000 per pupil and sadly there’s only so many efficiency savings you can make until it’s personnel that goes because it’s the most expensive thing.”
Another parent, Oleander Agbetu, who has two children at the school, said: “I think it’s really bad. The amount of cuts we will have, not just in London, it worries me.
“They sent us a letter telling us this was happening, not asking us ‘what do you think?’ Even if parents want to stand up against it, it worries me that we don’t have much power.”
Only two other schools in the country have said they could cut hours from next year. A primary in Bury is set to shave 15 minutes off its day and a special needs school in Birmingham will be finishing half an hour earlier.
School cuts have soared up the political agenda in recent months as both Tory and Labour areas have been hit by the funding formula changes and wider squeeze.
A new website, schoolcuts.org.uk, has had a million views since its creation by schools unions the NUT, NAHT, ATL and GMB.
HuffPost revealed last week that many schools are now relying on parents to crowdsource for funding for whiteboards, lollipop ladies and library facilities.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: “The fact that an outstanding school is being forced in to such desperate measures is just the latest shocking sign that Tory cuts have left our education system at breaking point.
“The government is slashing budgets, losing teachers, removing school meals and now even cutting the number of hours in the day. And if they are re-elected more cuts are on the way. Only a Labour government will invest in a national education system so that our children get the very best out of school.”
Kevin Courtney, NUT General Secretary, told HuffPost UK: “It is extraordinary in 2017 that schools are actually having to cut the teaching time for young people.
“This is simply not good enough. Alongside the cutting of the school day begging letters for money and resources are commonplace, class sizes are increasing, staff are being cut and buildings are going unrepaired.
“We need to do far better for our children and young people. More and more voters are realising that the future of our schools is at stake in this election. Whoever wins this election must be aware school funding has to be a priority”.
A Conservative party spokesman said: “Under our manifesto proposals no school will have their budget cut as a result of a fair funding formula. What’s more, we are increasing the overall schools budget, currently at record levels, by £4 billion by 2022 – a real terms rise for every year of the Parliament.
“Only Theresa May can provide the leadership to get the right Brexit deal and secure a brighter future for our country – so we protect the economy, and are able to properly fund our schools and give our children the best possible start in life.”
The City Academy in Hackney is one of England’s most impressive educational success stories.
Built on the site of the failed Homerton House school, it was part of new Labour’s decisive break with the past in a borough that had become a byword for school failure.
Since it opened in 2009, it has become a jewel in the crown of the ‘London Challenge’, former education minister Andrew Adonis’s drive to raise standards across the capital.
Although nearby Mossbourne Academy tends to grab the headlines, thanks partly to its former head and former Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw, the City Academy actually outranks its local rival in terms of pupils’ progress from primary to secondary level.
Judged ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted inspectors, last year students secured its best ever GCSE results, with 82% 5 A*-C grades.
Most striking of all, the school draws pupils from one of the most deprived areas in London, with child poverty rates of nearly 50% in two of the nearby wards.
Like many of the new breed of Hackney schools, the City Academy is known for its strict discipline, with no talking in corridors and detentions for failure to comply with the rules even on ‘taster’ days.
Despite some complaints about the ‘bootcamp’ image, both teachers and parents appreciate the ‘behaviour for learning’ approach and the school stresses its impressive record on art, sport, drama and music as much as its core exam success. ‘Family dining’, which sees students eat their lunch alongside teachers, is a key part of its emphasis on fostering a communal atmosphere.
Yet like many schools across the country, the City Academy – even with sponsors the City of London Corporation and Canary Wharf-based consultants KPMG – is having to radically cut its budget. Under Tory plans, it will lose £844,000 by 2022.
Although many other schools have decided to cut teachers, support staff and school trips, it is the first mainstream secondary in the country to go ahead with plans to actually reduce the hours of teaching in the school day.
HuffPost UK is looking at voters’ priorities outside the hubbub of the election campaign trail and what they want beyond March 29, 2019, not just June 8, 2017. Beyond Brexit leaves the bubble of Westminster and London talk to Britons left out of the conversation on the subjects they really care about, like housing, integration, social care, school funding and air quality.