Thursday, 16 September 2021

Award scheme could be axed due to funding cuts

TWO Duke of Edinburgh’s Award schemes in the Henley area could be axed due to funding

TWO Duke of Edinburgh’s Award schemes in the Henley area could be axed due to funding cuts.

The Eyot Centre in Wargrave Road, Henley, and Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common both host the youth activity programme in partnership with Oxfordshire County Council.

The authority holds a general licence for the scheme and gives free supervision and adminstrative support to participating schools and youth clubs.

However, it has announced that it will stop offering this from April so each venue will have to become a separate licensed provider at an annual cost of £1,200.

They will also have to recruit at least three extra staff to manage paperwork, conduct risk assessments and enforce child protection procedures.

Kevin Nutt, who co-ordinates both schemes as a volunteer, said: “The council sent us a letter last month telling us they had made their decision. There was no consultation but that seems to be the way of things. We never received direct funding but the support the council gave was an essential form of indirect funding.

“Bigger venues like private schools may be able to bite the bullet and pay the extra cost but that won’t be possible for small clubs.

“They’ll just have to finish, which is a crying shame as the ethos of the scheme is that it should be open to all, it shouldn’t be commercial or elitist.

“If we were to continue we would need to create extra roles to oversee it so it would be a big commitment in terms of head count.

“People were shocked when we told them but I don’t think there’s much chance of the decision being reversed.”

Mr Nutt, a former head of PE at Chiltern Edge, oversees about 40 youngsters a year at the Eyot Centre and a further 30 or so at his old school.

He is helped by four other volunteers who coach teenagers up to the highest possible level of a gold award.

Participants must undertake  voluntary work in the community, learn new skills and a sport and take part in a walking, cycling or canoeing expedition.

Mr Nutt has asked Wokingham Borough Council whether it will administer the Eyot Centre scheme as its border adjoins the site and it does not intend to surrender its licence.

He said initial talks had been positive but nothing was confirmed.

Meanwhile Daniel Sadler, headteacher at Chiltern Edge, says parents will have to pay to keep the school’s scheme going.

He has urged them to write to the county council calling for a rethink.

Mr Sadler said: “This decision may result in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award not remaining a viable proposition both financially and in terms of suitably trained personnel. We were very disappointed that there was no consultation.

“We are talking to other schools and D of E centres to explore ways of continuing this valuable programme but it will be very difficult and expensive without the support of the county council.

“There will certainly be an increased cost to parents if we are able to continue.”

A county council spokesman said the decision reflected a national trend for centres to be directly licensed and other areas, including Slough and Reading, already worked on this basis.

He said: “The council is working with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award to ensure providers are supported in the process of transition and we have already held a countywide meeting.

“Schools are being provided with one-to-one support during the year and the council will continue to support them as previously until April.”

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