Schools facing uncertain future after new funding rules unveiled
Last updated at 12:21, Friday, 21 September 2012
West Cumbrian schools could be forced to close or cut staff as they face losing up to a third of their funding under new Government rules.
It has a new formula setting out how Cumbria County Council distributes about £260 million a year to schools.
Ministers say it is fairer, more logical and transparent.
But the change will create some winners and some losers.
Exact figures are still to be agreed but Ellenborough and Ewanrigg Infant School in Maryport looks set to lose the biggest portion of its annual budget as it faces a possible drop of up to £128,082.
Beacon Hill School in Aspatria could lose up to £344,681.
The biggest sum which could be lost is £396,474 at Netherhall School in Maryport.
Southfield Technology College in Workington could lose £383,082 of its budget.
But Eaglesfield Paddle Primary Academy, near Cockermouth, and Dearham Primary School could be more than 25 per cent better off.
County council leader Eddie Martin said potential options to overcome the cuts could include merging schools, creating federations of schools, expanding age ranges or changing catchment areas.
But he warned that catchment area changes could have a big impact on the council’s school transport costs because of Cumbria’s rural setting.
He added: “We may collectively come to the conclusion that there’s no alternative but to amalgamate some schools and therefore close some.
“Which they will be I can’t speculate. This will only be done in consultation with the community.
“The bottom line is if a school isn’t going to break even financially, eventually it must close.
“But that’s what we’re trying to avoid at this stage.
“The solutions have to come as far as possible from the schools. We can suggest solutions but they have to be in agreement.
“In most areas the school is the heart of the community.”
Although the new rules apply from April, there will be a two-year transition period during which no school’s budget can fall by more than 1.5 per cent.
The full impact of the changes will be felt from April 2015.
But the council is lobbying for an extension to that period.
Coun Martin said: “I don’t think we can consult adequately and come up with solutions and implement the solutions in two years.”
The new rules have reduced the number of criteria the council can use to share out its education funding.
The one area the council has control over is the size of a lump sum, which can be up to £200,000.
But that lump sum must be the same for every school, regardless of size.
The Cumbria schools’ forum is consulting on having a lump sum of £50,000 or £70,000, which officials believe would cause the least disruption and potential harm.
The council will decide on the figure on November 8.
Extra payments can no longer be made to support smaller schools.
Academies are directly funded by the Government but will get the same lump sum as local authority schools.
Workington MP Sir Tony Cunningham said: “Any formula which increases the budgets of schools in affluent areas and decreases them in areas that are deprived is just grossly unfair.
“We have got to provide the best possible education, particularly in a town like Maryport that’s suffered through factory closures and decline.”
Coun Martin is trying to arrange a meeting with Cumbria’s six MPs over the issue to see if they can convince the Government that Cumbria, as a rural community, should be a special case.
Lynda Dalkin, headteacher at Southfield in Workington, declined to comment on whether job losses were inevitable but said 80 per cent of the school’s budget was spent on staffing.
She said: “I’ll continue to look after my staff. It would be awful if the school lost funding. If we keep losing funding can we keep that standard going?”
In a statement, Beacon Hill headteacher Julie Richardson and chairman of governors Trevor Gear said: “Over the last few years we have seen dramatic cuts to our budgets but have successfully managed these in order that they do not affect the education of our students.
“It is true that the new arrangements as they stand will affect our school significantly if they go ahead.
“However, we are confident that the consultation will be effective in changing and modifying the proposals especially as some schools are set to lose a significant amount of their funding.”
First published at 11:51, Friday, 21 September 2012
Published by http://www.timesandstar.co.uk
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