school finances

Governors at large school federation resign over falling rolls finance row

Challenges 'have proven to be insurmountable without the necessary support' from Lambeth Council, say governors

Challenges 'have proven to be insurmountable without the necessary support' from Lambeth Council, say governors


The governing board at one of the country’s largest maintained school federations has resigned claiming a council “demanded” it dissolve in under two months amid a falling rolls finances row.

Parents and staff received a damning letter on Wednesday from governors at Gipsy Hill Federation, in Lambeth, who said the federation’s challenges have been “insurmountable without the necessary support” from the council. 

The six-school GHF came into the spotlight in recent years after the dismissal of Sir Craig Tunstall, formerly England’s best paid primary headteacher on £367,000 a year. 

Council schools forum documents reveal four of its schools have a forecast deficit of £2.42 million, of which £1.91 million lies with Kingswood Primary School. 

In October, GHF was issued a warning notice by the council over “concerns that governance and leadership do not have adequate financial control and that financial compliance is not adhered to”, the documents from this month state. 

Potential actions include de-federation, de-delegation of budgets and an interim executive board. 

However, in their letter, governors said prior “financial and operational mismanagement” and deficits had been compounded by the decreased demand for school places across London. 

Alex Cambouris, chair of governors, told parents that the place planning strategy in Lambeth “forces schools to absorb the costs of excess places further straining budgets”. 

“We have seen, for example, a 20 per cent reduction in pupil numbers across the
federation in four years resulting in some classes that are below capacity and
therefore much more costly for schools to run.”

Governors had developed a deficit restructure plan which was “affirmed” by a Department for Education adviser as well as plans to partner with other schools, Cambouris said.

But governors “do not feel” the federation has received “the same support and collaboration” from Lambeth, as they have with neighbouring Southwark, where one of the schools is based.

“The lack of good faith support and partnership has resulted in a diversion of governor time and school resource toward activities that have no bearing on improving the quality of education in our schools and are now frustrating our efforts to address these challenges effectively. 

“The situation came to a head when, following months of work on a restructuring proposal, Lambeth abruptly changed course and demanded governors dissolve the federation in under two months.”

Camboruis said while governors are not opposed to considering the option, as they have recently chosen to defederate Crawford school in Southwark, Lambeth “answered none of our questions on how this could be accomplished in the time frame they set out without leaving the schools more vulnerable.

“Governors are not prepared to make such a significant decision in the absence of clear evidence that dissolving the federation on this timetable would be right for each individual school and a clear plan to accomplish it successfully.”

Camboruis has invited the DfE to appoint a new governing body as soon as possible. 

“Our decision to resign was driven solely by our commitment to the wellbeing of our schools, staff and pupils. We want to underscore our strong support for school leadership and dedicated and hardworking staff. 

“Despite our best efforts, the challenges faced by the federation have proven to be insurmountable without the necessary support from Lambeth.” 

Federations are a group of maintained schools that can join under one governing body. The largest is The Lighthouse Federation, comprised of nine schools in Walsall.

A Lambeth spokesperson said: “We support the decision of the federation’s governors to stepdown, a decision that follows concerns being raised by the council about the running of the Gipsy Hill Federation regarding a significant financial gap in their accounts and its overall management of its schools over a number of years.”

DfE has been approached for comment. 

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  1. Craig Tunstall

    Financial management in Lambeth has been inadequate for a long period of time. It is a defective council. The only interest they had in the GHF schools was retaining ‘control’ and power to avert academy conversion. Their tactics ultimately worked … but at the cost of quality and sustainability of these schools. These were once exceptional schools and Lambeth has presided over their collective decline regardless of reduced pupil numbers. Shameful and sad.

  2. Get over it Craig. If you had the best interests of the school at heart, you would have never considered that lawsuit! Did you ever consider the psychological impact you had on your former colleagues?

    • Craig Tunstall

      Sad that you weren’t able to put your name, as I did. I don’t think it likely compares to my suicidal ideation, psychiatric crisis, severe depression and consequent full incapacity ill health retirement at the same time that I became a new parent. In actual fact, I cared more about many of my former colleagues, children and parents across GHF than you will ever appreciate or understand. Just saying