Thursday, 24 January 2008

Rural schools bracing themselves for funding cuts

FUNDING proposals which could see rural schools in West Somerset forced into Victorian-style teaching classes have been approved by Somerset County Council.
Measures to axe the protection currently enjoyed by small schools and some middle schools were adopted as part of a catalogue of changes to the way education is funded in the county.
The Liberal Democrat-run council argued it wanted to make funding ‘fairer’ for all schools across the county.
But the effect of the decisions by the council’s executive board will be to threaten the very future of some of the smallest schools - especially as the authority is already separately reviewing whether to allow schools with fewer than 50 pupils to stay open on their own.
Despite strong representations from schools on Exmoor, including Exford First School, Dulverton Middle School, and All Saints First School, Dulverton, county councillors decided to reduce the minimum two-class funding protection for small schools to one class.
They also reduced the protection for middle schools from nine classes to six.
Now, small schools could be left with just a single class and one teacher for all their pupils, whose ages would range from four to nine years - just as when they were built by the Victorians 150 years ago.
Dr Brian Martin, who is chairman of the Federation of Exford and Dulverton Schools, was one of those to attend the county council meeting to speak in defence of rural education.
His cases was supported by letters from Exmoor National Park Authority, the Exmoor Society, Dulverton Town Council, MPs Ian Liddell-Grainger and Jeremy Browne, the West Somerset Community College, Minehead, and Exmoor’s county council representative Councillor John Edwards.
Dr Martin told The Post: “We did all we could. They listened very sympathetically to the case for small schools in rural areas and there was a lot of positive comment and understanding of how we needed to be treated carefully and not threatened by these changes.
“So, what we have got is a clause which says the board recognises the exceptional circumstances for rural small schools where pupils would otherwise have a long way to travel.”
Although the council said it would give ‘full transitional protection’ to small schools for the next three years, it was not interpreted by the schools as any postponement of the cuts.
Dr Martin said the results of the funding adjustments would not be felt immediately, as the council officers now had to develop the detail of the new funding formula.
The final figures were not expected to be announced until the middle of March, shortly before the new funding regime took effect at the start of April.
Dr Martin said: “So, we will have very little time between seeing the figures and having to cope with the new formula.
“We are continuing to lobby to try to ensure we are high in their consciousness right through to the numbers being crunched.
“We are trying very hard on behalf of the schools. They are successful schools and they have all done well in their Ofsted reviews and we want to grow and maintain them.”
  • Our photograph shows Exford First School, which is one of the small rural schools now under threat. Photo submitted.

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