Cumbria County Council dampens fears of school closures
Last updated at 16:15, Friday, 21 September 2012
Cumbria County Council is playing down fears of multiple school closures following changes in the way Government money is handed out.
Some schools will see funding slashed by a third from 2015, prompting Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron to predict that up to 32 schools could shut.
Among the worst affected is Beacon Hill Community School in Aspatria, which stands to lose up to £344,681 – 31 per cent of its £1.1m a year budget.
Other big losers include Solway Community College in Silloth, Gilsland Primary and Newtown Community Primary in Carlisle.
But some other schools will get more than they do now, such as Castle Carrock and Kirkbampton primaries, and Kingmoor Junior in Carlisle.
County council leader Eddie Martin said: “I must stress that reports that numerous schools will close are very wide of the mark at that this stage.
“It is true that under the new rules some schools would see reductions in their budgets but there is a lot of work to do to really understand what the eventual impact would be.”
A new formula sets out how councils distribute money to schools, in Cumbria’s case £260m a year.
Ministers say it is fairer, more logical and transparent. But it gives local authorities less leeway in allocating the cash.
Currently, Cumbria gives more to smaller schools because they tend to have smaller classes and so the running costs per pupil are higher.
Schools received details of the proposed changes on Monday.
Lois Baird, headteacher of Solway Community Technology College, said: “If this comes about we would have to think about further cuts in staff.
“We will be making strong representations to the council and lobbying our MP.”
Although the changes 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 council is asking for this transition period to be extended.
Penrith and the Border Conservative MP Rory Stewart has already written to Education Secretary Michael Gove while Carlisle MP John Stevenson is also lobbying for changes.
Mr Stevenson said: “The formula should take account of sparsity and rurality. I am going to write to the Secretary of State in support of the county council.”
The new formula allocates cash based on pupil numbers, deprivation, premises costs and the numbers of special needs’ pupils, children in care and those whose first language is not English.
The council can also include a lump sum, anything up to £200,000, but it must pay the same amount to every school regardless of size.
If the lump sum is high, small schools gain but there is less money left to distribute under other criteria in the formula so large schools lose out.
If the lump sum is zero, or a small amount, big schools would gain while smaller schools lose.
The council is consulting on having a lump sum of £50,000 or £70,000. It believes that setting the figure within this range will cause the least disruption.
Alan Rutter, Cumbria division secretary for the National Union of Teachers, chairs the schools’ forum which will recommend to the council’s cabinet what the lump sum should be.
He believes the changes are bound to cause widespread upheaval. Staff made redundant at one school would be forced to chase jobs at schools that received extra funding.
He said: “All we are doing [in Cumbria] is applying the new rules the Government is putting forward. We don’t have a choice.
“The schools’ forum has worked for decades to create a funding formula that doesn’t penalise schools and ensures that schools survive. We are no longer able to do that.”
Funding for sixth forms is not affected by the changes, nor is the pupil premium – additional money based on the number of pupils receiving free school meals.
First published at 13:49, Friday, 21 September 2012
Published by http://www.cumberlandnews.co.uk
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