Day 53 – The Pot of Gold

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.



7 Responses to Day 53 – The Pot of Gold

  1. Leodis says:

    Well said SMS. Our lower schools do a fantastic job and the teachers in them are incredibly dedicated professionals. This campaign is about preserving the 3 tier system lower/middle/upper. Clearly the middle schools are fundamental to a 3 tier system – hence the name I suspect!

    What can be of no doubt though is that the borough have not thought through the full consequences of system change. Unanswered questions remain, particularly in this precarious financial climate:

    What will happen if a programme of change is underway and a change of government causes funds to dry up because of cuts in public expenditure?
    Are we seriously expected to believe that it will cost £340m for 8 secondaries and ONLY £60m maximum for 50+ primary school sites?
    Who is going to purchase land for building in the current economic climate, thereby offsetting any borrowing?
    A minimum of 3.5% increase in council tax – just for this programme – what about needing to make up the shortfall in all the other services such as adult social care, libraries, refuse collection and other ‘efficiency savings’? It is only health that has been guaranteed as protected by both political parties. What happens to those services if council tax would already rise by 3.5%?
    How do the LA propose to redevelop lower school sites with no space for expansion without spending even more funds on purchasing land in key areas (as the only purchaser in need of land to keep to their commitment of no child moving without a building to go to) thereby adding to the overall cost of the programme?
    Does a brand new unitary authority, which by its own admission is small, have the capacity to embark on a building programme across 60+ sites and deal with all the extra unforeseens even they don’t know about?

    At present there is only £3.7m guaranteed for the Primary Capital Programme for Bedford Borough. No other funds are currently forthcoming as the 2011-14 spending round has not been completed. However, all analysts believe that regardless of a change of government there will be between 7% and 10% cuts in public spending with around 50% of the £45bn school building programme slashed.

    …and the children will be left in the centre of all this.

  2. Colin Mosedale says:

    This is personally my biggest concern about the Council’s proposal. There will be several lower schools that will be simply incapable of extending their capacity in order to cater for 2 extra year groups. Playground areas will become overcrowded and less safe for our children. How many of the existing science labs, ICT suites, drama studios, sports halls, modern language rooms, art and music rooms and design and technology areas used by years 5 and 6 in our existing middle schools will be demolished and not replaced? Specialist teaching for years 5 and 6 according to the Rose report must improve; what chance has the Borough got of achieving this aim in the middle of a building programme that will reduce the facilities available?

  3. joedy follington says:

    while chatting to a primary school teacher about this she told me that she had read recently that a school in London was adopting the 3 tier system because the trouble teenagers they had and needed to adopt the 3 tier to help with pastarol care, has anyone else heard about this? just shows that it does work…also this primary school teacher would much prefer her children to go through the 3 tier system, doesnt that say something! Would be very interesting to here the full story about this if anyone knows.

    • KDev says:

      It is Durand Primary School in Lambeth. OfSTED “Outstanding”. It is proposing to split into a lower school and a Middle School, up to 13 years. It also proposes to set up its own Upper School.
      To quote the Headteacher “So many children are leaving our school well educated only to be utterly failed by the secondary system.”

  4. Fred Bagnall says:

    I have found the lack of feedback on the proposals from Lower schools very puzzling. Some will suffer major disruption with relocation and others must face challenges to provide site space for new classrooms and kitchen, dining, library, play facilities etc for a third more students, but I have struggled to find any feedback from heads or governors for or against the move to 2-tier.

    Public information on where the expertise and finance for these expansions to Primary will come from is very flimsy. I can see this as a factor that may deter members of the Executive from supporting the plan but are the Independents not the mayor’s ‘Better Bedford’ people and the Conservatives those who originated the move at county level. Labour nationally favours 2-tier which may leave local LibDems in their traditional opposition position. To be honest, I haven’t heard the parties take positions on this locally but they must be aware that we will know who votes for what in the end. Could be a big call for the local prospective parliamentary candidates to deal with whether or not the general election precedes the local decision.

    I also do not know and would be interested to hear:
    How many of the existing officers have come over with the 2-tier plan from the County Council?
    Have any of the existing officers experience of a tier change?
    Which, if any, of the existing officers must accept some responsibility for the reported underperformance of our ‘secondary’ education as long serving county officers?
    Will officers be retiring before the change on the ground happens?
    Is much DCSF support available for the logistics etc of a Lower to Primary move?

    • Jonathan Parsons says:

      dear fred
      i to have seen a lack of response from lower schools, but at the end of the day there disruption could be minimal as they will not be closed, well not yet at least but are in line for substanial increase in the bugets, and in some cases brand new shiny schools to boot, ok there will be no playing field, but so what and who needs keep fit anyway, or probaly just bus them to a local playing field or park, and what carbon footprint, sorry i just think this whole situation stinks, someware ther is an govenment edict that says every child matters, shame some of bedfords higher persons havent read it, or maybe like me there education was lost last time we changed the schooling system, and unlike me spent the last 30 odd years becoming elected officials instead of working to make my childrens future better but working in the day and night school to improve. and to i wish i could change my vote from last time, but i have got the next election.


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