Excellence Cluster set to close after new blow

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HASTINGS schoolchildren will lose out after the funding was pulled for the body which works to improve education standards in the town, it has been claimed.

The Excellence Cluster has worked with thousands of children, parents and teachers and is credited with narrowing the gap in exam results between Hastings and more affluent parts of the county.

But the Observer reported in April that the organisation’s future was in doubt after the East Sussex Schools Forum decided the £1.3 million Government fund which currently bankrolls the cluster’s work should be redistributed among all schools in the county. There was an outcry locally with Amber Rudd MP and Cllr Jeremy Birch, leader of Hastings Borough Council, united in their condemnation of the proposals.

They managed to get the forum to reconsider, pointing out that Hastings’s social and economic needs meant it needed the money more than other schools.

But at a meeting this week, the forum rubberstamped its original stance, much to the anger and disbelief of campaigners. Cllr Trevor Webb, who spoke at the meeting, said: “I made clear just what a vital job the Excellence Cluster staff do in challenging circumstances and that this decision puts all those staff and what they do at risk.

“But I’m afraid some people just didn’t want to listen. They wouldn’t even allow the Excellence Cluster staff to come along and outline exactly what they do and the successes they are having.”

Not only will the money now be shared among 200 schools rather than 30, the forum also quashed a move to have the cash divided according to schools’ social needs rather than straightforward pupil numbers. A county council spokesman confirmed it would have ‘implications’ for the Excellence Cluster and its staff but said no concrete decision had yet been made.

Cllr Kim Forward, chairman of the governors at Filsham Valley, said: “The decision is a blow to our town and children. I came back from the meeting determined to tell governors and heads in the town just what had happened and to discuss with them where we go from here.”

The Government’s pupil premium scheme will give local schools a boost to the tune of £430 for every pupil eligible for free school meals. Some of that money may be used to buy some of the same services provided by the cluster.

Ms Rudd, who raised the issue in the Commons last week, said: “This decision was a surprise to all and flies in the face of what the funding was intended for. We all know young people in Hastings have particular problems that have been ably dealt with by the Excellence Cluster. It is simply not acceptable to assume because our schools will be getting additional welcome funding from the pupil premium, we should therefore lose our funding for the Excellence Cluster.”