Headteacher column: Impending tragedy at small schools

The small school is immediately at risk of closure.
The small school is immediately at risk of closure.

The Government has recently announced its plans for ‘fairer school funding’. Schools will receive their budgets directly from the Government and not via the local authority.

So, will it be fair and does it mean more money for our local schools? I think there are several factors for us to consider.

The East Riding has a very high proportion of small rural schools, successful schools that serve local communities.

The council has always been keen to preserve them and has directed extra funding towards them to secure their future.

Effectively, the area’s small schools have been ‘propped up’ by a locally agreed funding formula.

What happens, then, when the Government removes the local authority and funds the schools directly?

In my opinion, the small school is immediately at risk of closure.

The local authority has been involved in supporting schools for the last seventy-odd years. However, the new consultation paper state: “We expect local authorities to step back from running school improvement from the end of the 2016/17 academic year and, therefore, they will not require funding for this function.”

In essence, this appears to be the end of local authority educational support; they simply can’t function without funding.

Headteachers from across the region met at Bridlington Spa this month to hear from the Regional Schools’ Commissioner or RSC.

She outlined the Government’s plan to convert all schools to academies by 2020; the privatisation of our education system is gathering pace.

I have never been a supporter of academisation, but it appears I will be forced to convert my schools over the next few years.

The mood amongst headteachers was one of apprehension and uncertainty, with funding for small schools being the biggest concern for many of us.

Government rhetoric about school budgets being protected is simply untrue. One of my three schools is receiving £65,000 less than it did last year.

How can I possibly continue to provide the same opportunities for our children with such a decimating cut?

The new funding arrangements will see the budgets decrease further as I lose the protection from the local authority’s funding formula.

Michael Gove often mentioned schools with less than 100 children as no longer being viable; under the new proposals, who knows?

Of course, there will be larger schools that could benefit greatly from being funded directly.

They will be able to buy in their own chosen services, without losing the ‘top-slice’ historically kept by the local authority.

However, issues may arise when they are trying to squeeze extra children into already overcrowded classrooms as neighbouring schools begin to disappear.

Up until last week, I thought the RSC was the Royal Shakespeare Company, not the Regional Schools’ Commissioner.

To my knowledge, Shakespeare didn’t ever create a national funding formula, but he did write a good few plays in his time.

There’s certainly no comedy in future budgets for the East Riding’s small schools, more a case of impending tragedy.

As for the local authority, sadly, they’re history.