pound;500k deficit leaves academy staff facing jobs axe

16th April 2010 at 01:00
Wage bill, excess staff numbers and maintenance disasters force school into debt-reduction drive

Teachers at a flagship academy championed by Tony Blair are bracing themselves for a round of redundancies because the school has run up a pound;500,000 deficit.

The Business Academy Bexley, near Thamesmead in south-east London, was formally opened to much fanfare by the then prime minister in 2003.

But this week its chief executive Sam Elms confirmed the academy was considering a series of cost-cutting measures, including axing teachers' jobs to help reduce its debt.

"We are hoping to lose staff this summer through natural wastage, but I can't say we are not going to make redundancies," she said.

Asked how many jobs could be at risk, Ms Elms said: "I really don't know at this stage."

At the time of its most recent report and accounts, the academy, sponsored by property developer Sir David Garrard, employed 234 people in the year to August 2009, including 105 teachers and 74 teaching support staff. It also had a further 36 management and administration staff on the payroll.

Ms Elms said the deficit had been largely due to a catalogue of maintenance problems at the Norman Foster-designed building, including flaking steelwork, sewage problems and having to re-fit the IT system.

"We have an expensive building. It is full of industry-standard equipment but has had a leaky roof and we have spent an enormous amount of money putting the things right that have gone wrong," she said.

Towards the end of last year, the 1,500-pupil academy drafted in the education consultancy Isos Partnership to evaluate the structure of the senior management team at Bexley; its recommendations are due next term.

Ms Elms also blamed high wages for the deficit and said the academy had hired too many staff in the past. "Thamesmead is not the greatest place to attract staff," she said. "It's just outside London weighting, so we had to pay slightly more than others."

Bexley's latest accounts reveal that seven people earned more than pound;60,000 a year - three more than in 2008. The most recent figures include two people - believed to be Ms Elms and executive principal Christina Moon - who each earned between pound;120,000 and pound;130,000 a year.

The academy's overall wage bill went up by more than pound;200,000 in the year to August 2009 to pound;6.5 million, even though staff numbers fell by 6 per cent.

The school's budget is pound;11.4 million but this is unlikely to increase in the immediate future, Ms Elms said. "The message coming from the department is that there is no more (extra) money next year."

Martin Ward, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools running a deficit now would have to redouble their efforts to get their debt down ahead of the anticipated cuts in education funding next April.

"It's unfortunate for anyone in a deficit situation," he said. "That has got to be put right sharpish and schools in that situation may need to make further cuts the following year."

Swings of fortune

  • 2002: Academy opens
  • 2003: Academy formally opened by Tony Blair and described as a "beacon of hope"
  • 2004: Ofsted report complains of weaknesses in teaching; building shortlisted for Stirling Prize architecture award but loses out to the Gherkin
  • 2005: Inspectors describe it as "inadequate" on a further visit
  • 2007: Oftsed says it provides a "satisfactory standard" of education; national league tables for key stage 3 reveal Bexley was the third most improved school.
    • Original paper headline: pound;500k deficit leaves academy staff facing summer jobs axe

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