An open letter to all lower schools
On behalf of the Save Middle Schools (SMS) campaign here in Bedford Borough, we want to underline to you our support for all 3 tiers in the current system.
We know that our name may not make that clear to people inside the education sector. However, we hope that you will understand the campaign name was chosen because it represents the most outwardly visible aspect of the change to parents and the wider community and avoids slipping into education jargon.
We want to say how the excellent work done in lower schools, and the key stage 1 SATs results in particular, is something the whole education sector in the Borough should be proud of.
We know from our own experience that an enormous amount of work has gone into developing the facilities and educational experience at the Borough’s lower schools. We don’t want to see this lost in the proposed change.
We are sure you are aware of the financial situation outlined in the consultation. It is proposed that £340m is spent on 8 Secondary schools, funded by BSF money. Yet only £40-£60m is proposed to create 52 primary schools. Yet the primary sector will have as many pupils as the secondary sector. The lower schools would have to accommodate two extra years, as would the upper schools.
So the first question is whether this would be enough to create primary schools that are at least as well equipped and provided for as the existing lower Schools.
As you will know, for most lower schools it is not simply a case of building an extra classroom for each extra class. All other facilities would need to be improved. For instance would school halls be sufficient? Would the current ICT provision be enough for two extra year groups? You will know of what specific needs there would be for your school.
The second question is whether even this amount will eventually be forthcoming?
Some of the £40-£60m is to come from the Primary Capital Programme, but we understand that this programme is not confirmed yet. Some is also to come from the sale of middle school sites and some from council taxpayers.
The first challenge is the new era of tighter public sector finance we are entering. How much will the Primary Capital Programme actually be? This will have an impact on the council’s contribution as well – estimated at between 0 and £30m long term. The zero would result from maximum primary capital and maximum sale of surplus sites.
However, until the surplus sites are sold, which we imagine could be some considerable time in the current climate, the council taxpayer will have to finance the borrowing. The mid-point of their figures would mean a 4.8% rise in council tax to fund the borrowing. This would reduce as sites are sold.
If the £30m ultimately is needed from taxpayers (as mentioned above) this would need an approximate 3.5% on council tax for 25 years.
As you can see these are considerable sums for the council to find, particularly in a time when their budget is likely to be under more pressure than for many, many years.
These figures all come from page 8 of the consultation document. We have converted the borrowing figures into the council tax rises needed to fund the borrowing (using the council’s own method) so that they can be seen in context.
From this financial examination, we are concerned that the real danger is that this change will start and the council will then run out of money.
If this happens it will be the lower/primary schools that are most at risk of losing out.
In conclusion, in the SMS campaign we don’t want to see the great work at lower schools being thrown away by an underfunded change that is secondary school focused. We don’t wish to scaremonger – but it is important that the realities of what is being proposed is seen in the clear light of the current economic climate.