Leaders of the Ark Alexandra Academy say they ‘don’t recognise’ a portrait of their school painted by Labour’s general Election candidate Peter Chowney.
Last week Mr Chowney told an audience at St Mary in the Castle, that included Labour’s national leader Jeremy Corbyn: “I had a meeting today with a teacher from Ark Alexandra school. Some to the things she was telling me were quite shocking. All the teaching assistants have been cut. The behaviour team has been cut.
“They’re saying they just don’t have enough resources, with teachers having to buy things like felt tip pens and marker pens for the students. Students having to buy their own books because they’re not being provided by the school.
“And more worryingly she said, assaults on staff are relatively common now, both verbal and physical. And they don’t even have a recording system in place for them.”
But Ark dispute Mr Chowney’s claims: “We don’t recognise this portrait of Ark Alexandra,” a spokesman told Hastings In Focus.
“Like most schools, we do face funding challenges, but the community has responded very positively since we brought together Ark William Parker and Ark Helenswood to form this new co-ed school.
“Enrolment is up and we’ve invested heavily in the school’s future; expanding dining halls, renovating playing fields and upgrading classroom facilities.
“As a Church of England school with a strong ethos based in universal Christian values, good behaviour is a priority for the school and we work hard to create a safe, supportive environment for our students and staff.”
At last week’s meeting Mr Chowney told his audience that bad behaviour is now ‘off the scale’ at the Ark Alexandra Academy since a decision to no longer employ teaching assistants and to scrap a dedicated ‘behaviour team’.
He said how he had been told that teachers are now expected to email fellow teachers if they are faced with unruly students at the 557-pupil school. Bad behaviour he said ranged from physical and verbal abuse directed at teachers, to children shouting and throwing chairs and other objects, with teachers expected to react to such bad behaviour by issuing non-verbal instructions – that is signalling to them to stop.
“’We’re seeing behaviour we had never seen before,’ said one of the teachers we spoke to,” Mr Chowney told his audience.
“It has resulted in teachers being signed off work due to stress. We’ve heard this is also happening at other secondary school academies.”
Mr Chowney said teachers would only speak to him anonymously for fear of reprisals from senior staff.
He quoted another teacher who he said told him: “You are one teacher on your own in a large class of 11 to 16 year olds. We have children with complex needs, such as autism, aspergers, dyslexia and attention deficit disorder (ADHD) who are not getting that one-to-one educational attention that they need.
“And around 40 per cent of pupils in any one class come from disadvantaged backgrounds – what are known as ‘pupil premium’ students.
“That means children whose parents have not been to university, who tend not to have aspirational role models, so you’ve got to make sure you’re targeting and lifting those aspirations, because statistics show they tend not to perform well in mainstream education.”
Labour says there will be a £1.5 million shortfall in spending in schools in Hastings & Rye next year and that cuts, the they claim will affect 23 out of 30 schools in the constituency, are on top of a continuing tightening of school budgets over the past five years.
Mr Chowney says this leads to classroom stress and has also resulted in the postponement of repairs to school buildings.
Labour nationally has pledged in its manifesto to make sure schools are properly resourced with increased long-term funding, while introducing a fairer funding formula that leaves no child worse off. It will also invest to upgrade schools that have fallen into disrepair.
Mr Chowney says: “Cuts in school funding have led to reductions in activities outside the national core curriculum, as well as cuts in teaching assistants, placing impossible burdens on teachers.
“School performance in Hastings & Rye isn’t good, with three of our secondary schools appearing in the worst six in the whole of Sussex according to the Real Schools Guide.
“Labour will introduce a National Education Service, restoring funding to schools and making sure all schools are democratically accountable. We will also scrap tuition fees and reintroduce student maintenance grants.”
At the Ark Alexandra Academy though leaders say that if anyone wants to find out more about the academy first hand they are happy to extended an invitation to anyone wanting to find out more about our school to come in and see the academy for themselves.
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