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West Berkshire schools may need to make "significant savings"

Changes to government funding could see budget shortfall

Chris Ord


01635 886639

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SCHOOLS in West Berkshire have been warned they may need to find significant savings next year with changes to funding set to be introduced by central Government from April 2017.

The dedicated schools grant (DSG), which is paid to the local authority to fund schools, will see a reduction in certain areas, while other areas are expected to be supplemented.

The Government has said the changes would not mean cuts to the direct funding for schools.

However, the proposed changes will see a separate education services grant withdrawn and funding for these services now included in the DSG.

This will mean maintained schools will need to pay for certain statutory duties such as school improvement, finance, HR and health and safety through the DSG.

In a report to the West Berkshire Schools Forum, council officers said: “Ideally, schools budgets should be increased to cover this cost, but it is unlikely that this will be affordable in 2017/18, and will thus represent a cut to school budget allocations.”

The report concluded: “It is too early to determine whether funding in 2017/18 will be sufficient, or whether significant savings will need to be found.”

At a meeting of the Schools Forum on Monday evening, West Berkshire’s schools finance manager, Claire White, labelled the changes “back-door cuts”, adding: “It’s like turkeys voting for Christmas – asking the schools to pay for the statutory duties that the authority has to carry out.”

The council has also asked the Government to review its proposed changes to the early years funding in the DSG which would see the funding rate fall below average, while extending the free entitlement to childcare from 15 to 30 hours a week for working parents.

Speaking about the early years funding, Ms White said: “We are hoping there’s a flaw in the data and our rates will be higher than the proposed rates.”

Following the meeting, West Berkshire Council’s executive portfolio holder for education, Lynne Doherty, said: “We have got to be open-minded.

“We know the financial situation is still restricted and we have got to look at what model works best for our children.

“We know we have got great schools in West Berkshire, we are way above average, but we are watching a rolling situation.”

The warning to schools over funding comes just three months after a council report predicted an end-of- year deficit of more than £6m for schools in West Berkshire.

When asked if the funding situation looked bleak for the district’s schools, Mrs Doherty said: “Not if we get our models right. We’ve got to understand why some schools are managing and some are expressing difficulty.”

However, spokesman for education union ATL, Richard Hand, said: “The Government is saying it’s maintaining funding, but it’s not in real terms because of the other things they are making schools pay for.

“The rates for the early years and the fact that schools would have to pay for the one per cent pay increase basically means, in real terms, the budget is going down.

“This will ultimately lead to bigger class sizes and less contact time between students and teachers.”

Headteacher at Kennet School, Paul Dick, who sits on the schools forum, said: “There’s no doubt schools and local authorities are under a lot of pressure in terms of funding from central Government, but we all know the reasons why.

“In the short-term, we just need to work together more efficiently to make better use of our resources.

“It’s our job to represent the interests of children and represent them as best we can.”

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