Portsmouth residents to fund £800,000 to clear school's debt

MORE than £800,000 of taxpayers' money will be dished out to clear debt racked up by a Portsmouth school, it has been decided.

Thursday, 24th May 2018, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 8:48 am
Harbour School

Members of the Portsmouth Schools Forum yesterday endorsed a cash sum of £868,258 to pull The Harbour School out of deficit.

The school, which specialises in special educational needs students (SEN) has four sites across the city including at Fratton and Tipner, and is looking to join a multi-academy trust for more financial stability in the future. This would have been unlikely if the cash had not been awarded.

The council’s education boss, Cllr Suzy Horton, was pleased with the outcome but stressed the money wasn’t just about the school becoming an academy.

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She said: ‘It is important that the focus is on meeting the needs of the SEN students, specifically those with high end needs at this school.

‘We have to move forward in a pragmatic way that is in the best interests of the kids.’

Jackie Collins, headteacher at Devonshire Infant School, was the only forum member to vote against endorsing the funds. She said: ‘The concern from some headteachers is to question if this is just so the school can become an academy.

‘Funding for SEN pupils is also an issue with mainstream schools. We are not being sufficiently funded.’

‘It just worries me that we would be down this road again with other schools.’

Chair of the Schools Forum, David Jeapes, said: ‘We don’t want to be back in this situation again. But we are where we are.

‘This has not come out of the blue. We have got contingencies in place as a forum.’

Originally the school had a predicted defecit of £1.4m for the financial year of 2017-2018. However, it made several changes such as appointing a new headteacher, downsizing from five sites to four, restructuring staff and reducing pupil numbers which almost halved its debt.

Speaking about the cutbacks Ian Hunkin, head of The Harbour School, said: ‘We have had some tough decisions along the way. We have worked really hard to protect the staff working with the children but we have continued to meet the needs of pupils at the school.

‘We would still need the money regardless of if we wanted to become an academy.’

Council officers reported that due to these changes the school is projected to show a small in-year surplus next year and in subsequent years. This gave them reason to believe that the school will be financially viable into the future.

The £868,258 funding will be taken from the designated schools grant that comes from central government of which Portsmouth recieved £78m for last year.

Five members of the forum voted to endorse the funding and one voted against.