Monday, 08 August 2022

Headteachers raise funding concerns with school minister

REPRESENTATIVES of schools in the Henley area have discussed funding with school minister Nick Gibb.

The meeting at Westminster was arranged by Henley MP John Howell and among those represented were Stoke Row, Lewknor, Badgemore, Ewelme and Checkendon primaries as well as Bishopswood Special School.

Mr Howell said: “The minister expressed his strong support for small rural schools, not least because he does not favour young children having to go to school by bus or taxi.

“He reminded the meeting that the Government has a ‘presumption against closure’, meaning that it would be a last resort to see a small rural school closed.”

Mr Gibb was told about issues such as the need to provide free school meals without a kitchen and costs resulting from a lack of on-site facilities.

He thanked the representatives and said their comments would help inform future decisions on the schools funding formula but did not promise major change.

Last year headteachers campaigned against proposed changes to the national schools funding formula saying it would result in them losing money.

The Government backed down, promising an increase of at least 0.5 per cent per pupil in 2018-19 plus one per cent the following year and a £110,000 lump sum.

Under the original formula, almost every primary school in the Henley area expected to receive up to three per cent less.

Marion Arnold, headteacher of Badgemore primary, said: “All schools at this present time are struggling. We have to look very carefully at making the most of our teaching resources, so we do look at our budget very carefully and how we can use it to the maximum effect.

“Sharing resources is quite difficult for a small school so looking at ways to do that is a good idea.”

Janet Kellett, headteacher of Bishopswood Special School, said: “Funding needs to be appropriate so schools are able to support special needs children and at the moment the funding doesn’t cover that.

“Our funding that we get from the Government covers staffing and the upkeep of the school and there’s very little left over to pay for equipment.”

Margery Slatter, headteacher of Ewelme primary, told the minister that she had a £15,000 cut in its budget this year under the formula.

She said: “Mr Gibb promised to look into the national funding formula and said that it could well undergo further tweaks that may benefit small schools.

“I said that providing free school meals for children in reception, year one and year two, though a great idea in theory, was not ‘free’ to small schools but actually comes at a very high cost as, without the full take-up of infant free school meals and a larger possible uptake elsewhere in the school, the school cannot cover the costs of the contracts involved in providing and serving meals. This currently costs the school in the region of £5,000 every year.”

Mrs Slatter said the meeting also heard about the problems in recruiting newly trained teachers because they cannot afford to live in areas with high property prices.

She added: “Headteachers requested consideration of salaries for teachers being managed by Government independently of the funding delegated to run a school.”

Mr Howell thanked the schools for attending the meeting and raising their issues, adding: “Only by raising these issues can we hope to see change.”

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