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Two West Berkshire schools first to bid for financial aid grant

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John Rankin and Westwood Farm schools tackling deficit problem

Two West Berkshire schools became the first to bid for financial support this year to tackle a growing budget deficit problem.

At a Schools Forum meeting held at Shaw House on July 11, headteachers and education chiefs agreed the two bids for financial support for John Rankin and Westwood Farm Schools.

John Rankin School successfully bid for £68,060 to help cushion a total deficit of £182,300.

Westwood Farm School was granted £76,000 out of a total shortfall of £127,370.

The schools in financial difficulty de-delegated fund has a budget of £332,600 for 2016/17, including the carry forward from last year’s unspent budget of £215,280, and it is the first time the fund has been used this year.

A report prepared ahead of the meeting by West Berkshire Council finance manager Claire White, blamed costly redundancies and extra IT support for the shortfall and warned the grants alone would not solve the problem.

She said: “Approval of the bids for these two schools will not clear their deficits, and they will still be required to implement the savings they have in their deficit recovery plans.

“Receipt of the funding will, however, put the schools in a stronger financial position.

“Their current budget positions are fragile with no contingency – other than to implement further restructuring which may be detrimental to teaching and learning, should the budget not go to plan.

“Both of these schools have needed to make significant one-off exceptional payments in order to move forward to bring their teaching and learning up to a good standard as well as to improve their financial position.”

The council had previously liaised with both schools to address the deficit and it was agreed that each school’s shortfall was the result of “exceptional circumstances”.

Speaking at last week’s Schools Forum, at which the two bids were approved, National Union of Teachers representative Keith Watts asked what guarantee there was that the schools could control their budget.

Head of education at West Berkshire Council, Ian Pearson, answered that the Heads Funding Group had questioned the school’s representatives and had sufficient confidence in the new management teams that had been appointed.

The news follows revelations earlier this month that two thirds of West Berkshire schools were expected to carry a budget deficit in just two years.

If nothing is done to balance the books, schools would be in the red by £6,230,745 by 2018/19.

At the same meeting last week, Claire White warned of the potential impact on teaching and learning in order to bring the shortfall down and said it was “increasingly difficult to set a balanced budget without it having a significant impact on the quality of teaching and learning pupils receive”.

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