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NAHT Cymru raises concerns over childcare proposal amid funding pressures

School leaders have forced a pause to plans which saw them told to offer additional paid-for childcare or lose money.

NAHT Cymru, the school leaders’ union, intervened in response to the proposals by Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) County Borough Council.

The plans to amend existing free breakfast club provisions to include a new childcare offer come at a time when schools are facing significant funding pressures, and when the Welsh government has already promised to reduce workload pressures on school leaders. Teaching staff are already regularly working between 50-60 hours each week. 

Under the proposed changes, schools would be required to modify their free breakfast club services to include childcare for £1 per session to support existing school income.

RCT County Borough Council has estimated the provision would raise £500,000.

However, school leaders are worried about the level of additional responsibility it places on schools to provide services beyond education and have raised their concerns with the local authority.

In response, the council paused plans to roll out the scheme at the start of the summer term to allow further consultation with unions. But the additional projected income, which had been included in school budgets, has now been clawed back by the council while the discussions are ongoing - angering school leaders who are set to have less money available for schools.

While the council held a public consultation it did not engage specifically with the unions on the potential impact on staff terms and conditions.

Laura Doel, NAHT Cymru national secretary said: “While we appreciate that RCT Council is looking to bring in additional money to support schools, there needs to be a balance between what is a school leaders’ responsibility and what is not. 

“Our position is clear – head teachers are experts in teaching and learning, and we do not believe they should run childcare services. Our members have told us they feel they are being forced to do this or suffer the consequences of having less money, which is simply unfair. For the local authority to withdraw the projected income from school budgets while negotiations are ongoing has done nothing but pour fuel on the fire.”

NAHT published a report earlier this year into the impact of underfunding in education – Fair Funding for Wales: Ambitious Change Needs Real Spending, which outlines the concerns of the profession.

The union says the concerns of RCT school leaders are symptomatic of a Wales-wide issue.

“There needs to be a realisation that the funding crisis schools face means that local authorities are coming up with all sorts of ways to save money and generate additional income - but we believe these measures are coming at a cost to the workforce,” added Laura Doel.

“Redundancies in schools are rife just to balance the books, and so the inevitable workload implications on those who remain are huge.

“The delivery of education is a national priority and therefore we need to ensure that school leaders’ time is spent where it offers the greatest value to children and young people – that’s leading their school, not plugging funding gaps by taking on extra tasks.”

One RCT headteacher, who did not wish to be identified said: “We are happy with the existing breakfast club provision because we want to support our learners and their families.  But expecting us to manage an additional childcare offer is completely unreasonable.

“For too long, additional responsibilities have been placed on schools to pick up the pieces of other service level cuts.  We have seen cuts to social services, mental health support for learners, and help to tackle absenteeism - yet the need of our learners is greater than ever.”

First published 22 April 2024