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Threat to our village schools
SMALL rural primary schools in Worcestershire are facing huge cuts to their funding.
A new national funding formula being brought in by the Department for Education could leave some facing up to 40 per cent less funding making them unviable, campaigners have warned.
The formula, which takes effect from April 2013, favours schools in areas of deprivation.
This means small schools in rural areas will be hardest hit, with the worst affected in Worcestershire losing 38.22 per cent of its budget, according to a list leaked to your Worcester News.
To compensate, the Government is allowing local authorities to support those schools most affected by the changes through capping the amount the more better-off schools receive and distributing the excess through the minimum funding guarantee scheme.
This buffer is in place for 2013/14 and 2014/15, meaning the full force of the cuts could become a reality from April 2015 if no new measures are brought in.
Worcestershire County Council’s cabinet will decide whether or not to approve the formula at its meeting next Thursday.
Meanwhile, one Worcestershire governor has written to governing bodies across the county calling on them to protest against the move as it could leave schools unsustainable.
The governor, who has asked not to be named, wrote: “If the MFG (minimum funding guarantee) is stopped, then this will have a devastating impact on small schools in Worcestershire and other counties.”
The letter says: “I attended the area briefing meeting at Baxter’s College on September 24. I came away from the meeting with a strong sense that this was likely to be implemented.
“In fact, I felt like it was not a consultation process but a confirmation of what was to come. The representatives from the county said they would support the schools that are most affected and schools will be supported in federating with other schools.”
Councillor Jane Potter, Worcestershire County Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for education and skills, said the council had some concerns over the changes but it anticipated a new national formula from the Government from 2015.
She said: “Worcestershire has for a number of years been actively campaigning as part of the F40 group (40 lowest funded LAs in the country) in a bid to make school funding fairer.
“Following more than 17 years of no action concerning this difficult problem, we welcome the Government’s move to address the school funding issue and its focus on prioritising schools in areas of deprivation.
"There is, however, a high level of turbulence in the new funding, and we recognise that the minimum funding guarantee (MFG) will ensure no school loses more than 1.5 per cent of funding per pupil for the next two years.
“At the end of that time we anticipate a new national formula from the Government which will give Worcestershire schools the funding they deserve.
“In addition, the pupil premium will be increased from £600 to £900 per pupil from April 2013, which will provide further funds for schools in deprived areas.
“While this is the first step in the process, we have some concerns and have lobbied Michael Gove for some flexibility in part of the formula to allow us to smooth some of the changes.
"Also our Worcestershire MPs and other partners will be speaking to government ministers in our support for a fairer funding formula, to be implemented sooner rather than later.
“It should be recognised that despite comparatively low funding levels the county’s schools continue to deliver excellent results and that is a testament to strong leadership and management, and, most importantly, the hard work and dedication of pupils.”
- For the list of schools see today's print edition of the Worcester News or take a look at our free e-edition at worcesternews.co.uk/e
COMMENT: Education of our children is the priority
The writing could be on the wall for some smaller schools in Worcestershire as the financial squeeze tightens in the education sector.
It all depends on whether a government proposal about the way schools are funded gets approved.
Perhaps this should come as no surprise. The drive for efficiency in both the public and
private sector is leading to more and more centralisation.
It costs a lot per head of pupil to sustain small schools and in many parts of Britain the old village school no longer exists as a living entity but as an empty building standing as a reminder of (better?) times gone by.
But there is also a strong argument that bigger, more modern schools with more staff, more resources and a greater ability to offer specialist teaching can provide a better standard of overall education for their pupils.
Our hearts support village schools because of our instinct about the role they play as a core element of a vibrant local community. But our heads tell us that we should be careful not to allow romantic notions to get in the way of providing the best education for our children.