Church schools "could struggle to survive" Central Bedfordshire Council's Schools for the Future shake up

Next meeting in November “could be too late for some of those schools”

By Euan Duncan, Local Democracy Reporter
Wednesday, 15th June 2022, 12:21 pm

Church schools in Central Bedfordshire could struggle to survive if the council fails to successfully manage and budget for its move towards a two-tier education system, a meeting heard.

Funding pressures are an increasing concern for Central Bedfordshire Council’s Schools for the Future programme.

And the local authority could resort to using money from the schools growth fund – which comes from other educational sources – rather than burdening council resources, according to a report to its schools forum.

Photo: Shutterstock

But such a move would be unpopular with schools that have switched from a three-tier set-up already.

School organisation manager for Schools for the Future Gareth Cheal told a forum meeting: “The current regulations prevent any external money from the local authority being used to top up this programme.

“We’ve got one per cent set aside for the growth fund, which is nearly £2m,” he said. “That seems a sizeable amount, but there are several changes happening which will probably have an impact.

“We approached the Department for Education directly to help, but from its perspective this is a remodelling change.

“We’ll get that funding eventually within revenue support grant overall, although that will take time to come through once the children arrive.

“We want to ensure there’s a clear and transparent allocation policy when we look at Schools for the Future across all these clusters.”

His report called for a task and finish revenue working group to report back at the forum’s next meeting in November.

Karen Hayward, of Sandy Secondary School, who chairs the forum, asked: “What would the implications be for the schools which have committed to change already, such as the Henlow pyramid, if they were to revert back?

“I would have an issue against money being moved from the schools block. I know other schools which have gone through it and weren’t given any financial help think the same.”

Mr Cheal replied: “That’s something we’d need to work through with the revenue group.”

Church of England diocese representative Caren Earp warned: “There are a number of church schools involved and some of those might not survive this next stage.

“I don’t want to see any unfair funding either. We began this together, but there isn’t a plan and there hasn’t been a plan for quite a long time.

“The idea of getting a group together and feeding back in November could be too late for some of those schools. It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t say that here. They’re all in a difficult circumstance.”

Mr Cheal explained: “We don’t want to be in a position where we’re driving change through. We don’t want any school in a difficult position.

“We’ve got a real task from now until November. It’s not the intention to put schools in a worse position.

“We want to be improving the educational experience for children in Central Bedfordshire. I understand the timing is very tight. We need decisions quickly.”