eglingham first school
SCHOOLS in Northumberland will be left facing closure if ministers introduce a new funding system, a rural affairs committee has heard.
Primary school teachers in Northumberland have met to discuss education policy changes, which could see as much as 30% of their budgets slashed.
Newcastle University Professor Mark Shucksmith yesterday told a Parliamentary committee the Government had failed to foresee the implications for smaller primary schools in its planned changes.
“The viability of these schools and of the villages near those school is threatened,“ he said.
Officials at the Department for Education want to change the system so every school is handed the same cash-per-pupil sum and a set lump sum for other costs.
But with smaller schools in Northumberland having fewer pupils, the lack of flexibility in the lump sum handout means they face spending cuts.
Prof Shucksmith, from the university’s Institute for Social Renewal, said there will be rural school closures across the country unless the Government allows councils to hand over extra cash to smaller schools.
The unintended consequence of the Government’s change in how funding is handed out will render many small schools potentially unviable, Prof Shucksmith has warned.
“We don’t even need new money,” he said, “just the ability to have flexibility over who gets what sized lump sum. If not schools – particularly primary schools – in rural areas face a very difficult future.
“We face a situation in which schools close, in which parents are faced with sending their children further and further to go to school, sometimes quite young children, and that raises the possibility of moving away to be nearer the school. It’s obvious this will effect the viability of many small villages.”
Prof Shucksmith was speaking after giving evidence on the threat at the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee, where MPs including North Tyneside’s Mary Glindon asked for his views on the Government’s relationship with the rural north. He told the committee some people he spoke to felt there had been a noticeable change in the way the Government deals with rural concerns. He said: “They speak about how distant and remote central Government has become and how they don’t really have any contact with central Government any more.”
The Department for Education is currently consulting on the proposed changes. Ministers have promised no school would lose more than 2% in each of the first two years of funding changes, though there is as yet no commitment to a continued safety net after that.
A number of rural schools have closed in the North East, including Eglingham, Milfield, Cornhill and Chatton first schools.
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