Parents of students attending Bradley Stoke Community School (BSCS) have been warned of a looming financial crisis that could lead to the school day being shortened and/or class sizes being increased in order to save on staff costs.
Other “unthinkable” cost-saving suggestions being put up for discussion include reducing support roles, such as teaching assistants, and asking parents/carers to make regular financial contributions to the school.
The funding issues, which affect all seven schools operated by the Olympus Academy Trust, are said to result from historically low levels of government funding for schools within South Gloucestershire, in comparison with other areas of the country. This has left the trust with less money in reserves to fall back on in hard times. On top of this, it is claimed that government funding has not been increased to compensate for inflation and increased costs that have fallen on schools in recent years.
Trust CEO Dave Baker said:
“We have had to make cuts year-on-year for several years now because of the government’s ‘austerity’ policy, which has meant ‘flat’ budgets for education – in reality this has meant reduced funds to run our schools each year because we have had to pay for things along the way which previously we did not have to pay for, such as increased employer pension and national insurance contributions for staff, the apprenticeship levy (a new tax from April this year), unfunded cost of living pay awards for staff, inflationary costs, provision of services that were funded externally before, e.g. careers advice and guidance, behaviour and mental health support for students etc.”
Mr Baker predicts that the trust’s expected funding levels for the next academic year (2017/18) will make it their “most challenging year yet”. The trust’s two secondary schools, BSCS and Abbeywood, are likely to be hit hardest, with both having to “reduce spending by over 8 percent by September”, equating to £400,000 less in each school.
Mr Baker continued:
“This cannot be achieved by trimming around the edges and is going to require new ways of working. In addition to our own challenges, we have been informed that we are going to have to contribute for the next three years to a cumulative overspend of £7 million by South Gloucestershire Council on special educational needs (SEN) placements out of the area! To add insult to injury, they are currently considering reducing the amount of funding we receive to support students with SEN, which could have a huge impact for us as we have two schools in the trust with specialist resource bases which receive SEN funding in order to function.”
Under the government’s proposals for a new National Funding Formula, intended to produce a “fairer” distribution of school funding across the country from 2018/19, South Gloucestershire schools would see an average 2.4 percent increase, but for BSCS it will be only 0.9 percent. Overall, Mr Baker claims the trust will be “2 percent worse off than next year”.
A public consultation on the government’s proposed new funding formula is currently taking place (until 22nd March).
In conclusion, Mr Baker said:
“Clearly the decisions we have to make are not being taken lightly and they are being taken at trust level with involvement of the Olympus Academy Trust Board of Trustees, who are ultimately responsible for what the trust provides. Trustees are working closely with school and trust senior leaders to plan for the ‘least worst’ scenario, but there will have to be reduction and it will have a negative impact. Our highest priority is to ensure the well-being and safety of all our learners and staff and to make sure that learning is not jeopardised by our decisions.”
The Olympus Academy Trust is encouraging parents of children at all its schools to write to local MP Jack Lopresti, to “voice concern about the impact of current and future funding for our schools”. Mr Baker recently met with Mr Lopresti and “warned him to expect contact from parents/carers in Olympus Academy Trust schools”. He reported that Mr Lopresti has “agreed to write to the secretary of state for education on our behalf as a starting point,” but added: “That alone will not be enough”.
As we went to press, we learned that the Olympus Academy Trust has started an online petition, on the change.org website, titled ‘Stop Unfair School Funding in South Gloucestershire’. The petition demands that the government “finds a better, fairer funding strategy for our schools – a new formula that recognises that investment in education is an investment in the future of the young people in South Gloucestershire”.
- School funding: Your help is needed – our funding is insufficient and getting worse! (OAT)
- Update: Funding Challenges (OAT)
- Press and Media Interest: Funding Challenges in South Gloucestershire (OAT)
— Jack Lopresti MP (@Jackloprestimp) February 15, 2017
This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal magazine (on pages 4 & 5). The magazine is delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to 9,500 homes in Bradley Stoke, Little Stoke and Stoke Lodge. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.
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