Finance is a topic which has most of us glaze over – unless it’s our own bank balances – or lack of them.
But as we’ve stressed so often, finance is central to any understanding of what’s happening in politics – and especially in Local Government.
The changes introduced by this LibDem/Tory Coalition Government have produced a confusing maze of finance for new schools and school places.
This is now seriously inhibiting planning of school places for our children.
The Local Government Association has recognized this, and called for a simplification – and a recognition of the central role Local councils still have to play in education provision.
But in the meantime, the Coalition’s changes spell real trouble for us here in Leeds NW,
First – the complexity.[courtesy of Local Schools Network]
‘ If schools need maintenance or rebuilding, or if new places are required, there are now several funding pots. These have different labels such as:
1. Basic Needs Allocation for new pupils places (the Government was accused of siphoning money from this pot to free schools);
2. Targeted Basic Needs Funding: additional funding for extra school places.
3. Priority School Building Programme: for schools urgently needing repair. 580 schools applied – less than half (261) were successful. 46 of these will not receive grants but will be financed by private finance funding.
4. Devolved Formula Capital…
As well as dividing the funding between maintenance, new places and rebuilding disintegrating schools, the money is subdivided between local authority (LA) schools, Voluntary Aided (VA) schools, free schools, City Technology Colleges (CTCs), sixth-form colleges, academies and NIMSS*. [No, we’re not sure what NIMSS are either!]
[Full references on all these funding streams can be found on the Local Schools Network website.]
Faced with this, the LGA have produced a careful report – based firmly in a series of local studies and examples.
They have put together a five point plan asking for a simplification of the funding – and a recognition that since it is Local Councils which have the statutory responsibility to provide school places, they must have far more say in what happens in their area.
The Local Schools Network’s summary reads
‘1. There should be single capital pot locally. This would allow Local Authorities [LAs] and schools to collaborate to ensure capital funding is used in the best possible way.
2. The three-year allocation should be extended to five years. This would allow LAs to plan ahead and commission extra school places.
3. The decision-making powers which LAs once had should be restored. This would allow LAs to direct academies to expand to provide extra places.
4. LAs should have the option of setting up LA maintained community schools. LAs should be able to decide, after consultation with parents and communities, which sponsor would establish an academy.
5. LAs should have a greater role in approving free school proposals so they’re set up where needed and don’t contribute to school place surplus. This would help, not hinder, LAs in their statutory duty to manage school place supply.’
A recurring theme in the LGA document is the problems Free Schools have produced.
‘Oxfordshire has a proactive approach to free schools, but reports a mixed experience, with one free school delivering excess capacity in the wrong area and others undermining existing plans to find academy providers for new schools.
In Sandwell a free school project was abandoned and the council had to create places at short notice.
Brighton and Hove’s two free schools sit on the edge of the city in temporary sites one of them owned by a sponsored academy, because the Education Funding Agency has not been able to find sites in the city centre, where the places are needed.’
A single funding pot was a recommendation of the James Review into School Capital funding published in 2011.
That was quietly shelved by the Coalition, perhaps because Local Councils would have been the obvious people to control that pot – not what Gove and his sidekicks wanted to see.
The changes brought in by the LibDem/ToryCoalition have made rational planning of school places next to impossible – yet have left the ‘unique responsibility. . .in making sure there are enough school places’ in the hands of Local Councils who no longer have control of the funding for those places or the power to create the schools which could provide them.
Here in Leeds North West, as we’ve pointed out before, we face a growing problem of primary provision. In both Bramhope and Yeadon the situation will be acute by 2014/15. By 2016/17 the crisis will have spread to Cookridge and Adel. Weetwood and Headingley will not be far behind, especially given shifts in housing as a result of the retreat of student accommodation. Primary schools, especially in Outer Leeds North West, are facing a bulge of demand for places, and it can only get worse.
The LGA report is polite – but clear. The combination of changes in finance and school types – added to the freeze on Local Council finance – means that even the most creative Councils – Labour or Tory – are in difficulty.
We would put it more bluntly. The LibDem/Tory Coalition’s ideologically-driven revolution in school provision is rapidly heading towards chaos – and it will be our children who pay the price.
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