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New funding strategy may be death-blow to village schools

03 April 2012

by Margaret Holness Education Correspondent

Crosses: two hundred children take part in a service for Holy Week and Easter, at Bishop Cornish C of E Primary School, in Saltash, Corn­wall, last week BISHOP CORNISH SCHOOL

Crosses: two hundred children take part in a service for Holy Week and Easter, at Bishop Cornish C of E Primary School, in Saltash, Corn­wall, last we...

HUNDREDS of Church of England primary schools will be hit by funding cuts announced last week by the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove. Many will be forced to close, diocesan directors of educa­tion predict.

The new rules will end the current protection for the budgets of small schools with fewer than 75 pupils which have proportionately higher unit costs. The move is consistent with the encouragement of a market sys­tem, a statement from the Depart­ment for Education says. The new measures will also hit free schools, but help will be available for growing schools, the statement says.

The market-forces approach to the new funding measures was criti­cised this week by Professor John Howson, the education data special­ist who is also vice-president of the Liberal Democrat Education Asso­ciation. “Those children who attend their local primary should not be forced to attend an education factory miles away because the Secretary of State prefers to let market forces rather than a local community decide whether a school is viable.”

The Local Government Association has also criticised the changes. The chairman of the association’s Children and Young People’s Board, Councillor David Simmonds, said that the new arangement replaced local author­ities’ discretion over their support to small schools with a “national one-size-fits-all” rule. Schools were vital to rural communities.

Most of the 14 per cent of primary schools in England with fewer than 100 pupils are church schools. Although a few are in inner-city areas, most serve rural villages. The dilemma they face was highlighted in the Chadwick report, published last month (News, 23 March). On the one hand was the need to sustain village life and the existing proportion of church-school provision, while on the other was the need for educational and financial viability, it said.

The diocesan director of education for Lichfield diocese, which has 205 schools, Colin Hopkins, said that about one third of these had fewer than 100 pupils, and 20 had fewer than 50, including the seven-pupil school at Flash, in High Peak, now the smallest in England.

“The Government’s market-driven strategy means some closures are inevitable, and all will be forced into partnerships,” Mr Hopkins said. “It is particularly sad that many of those villages where schools will close will already have been affected by the loss of other publicly funded services.”

Hollinsclough C of E Primary School, also in High Peak, which has developed flexi-schooling to serve the needs of home-educated children and others with alternative needs (Education, 11 February 2011), has grown from five pupils to 45 over the past four years, and is expected to expand further, the head teacher, Janette Mountford-Lees, said this week.

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