Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Smallest Fish Could Sink under School Budget Plan: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Smallest Fish Could Sink under School Budget Plan: News

Article excerpt

New funding rules put small schools at risk, campaigners say.

Hundreds of small schools are at risk of closure because of a funding overhaul that could result in budgets being severely cut, according to campaigners.

The Church of England has become the latest organisation to add its voice to growing concerns over the potentially "devastating" impact of funding changes due in April on small schools.

These schools, which typically have around 200 or fewer pupils, are more costly to run because of the difficulty of achieving economies of scale. Under a new national formula, they will be given a lump sum of up to Pounds 200,000 a year on top of their regular funding, which is supposed to cover those costs.

But concerns have been raised after it emerged that schools in some local authorities will receive as little as Pounds 42,000, prompting fears that they will be forced to close or merge, federate or join an academy chain.

The Local Government Association and the National Association for Small Schools (NASS) have already raised concerns that small and rural schools will be hit by the new funding rules.

Commenting at the General Synod last month, the chairman of the CofE's national board of education, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev John Pritchard, said the Church also feared that small schools would suffer.

"All schools will receive a lump sum of up to a maximum of Pounds 200,000," he said. "However, local authorities are applying the funding arrangements in very different ways, many of them allocating much smaller lump sums, and this will have a significant impact on all small schools.

"We continue to make representations at a national level on this matter, but detailed funding decisions are made locally, so there is greater need for local political lobbying and for individual dioceses to continue to work with their local authorities to negotiate the best deal for all their schools in these very difficult circumstances."

The bishop singled out the Pounds 42,000 lump sum that has been set by Worcestershire County Council as cause for concern (see panel, left).

Ann Mundy, the CofE's director of education for its Worcester diocese, told TES that worried headteachers had been contacting her since the news was announced by the council in the autumn.

"I don't want to scaremonger, but a large percentage of our church schools are small, rural schools and we're very anxious about their future. …

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