Day 95 – A Financial Conundrum

First of all, everyone associated with this campaign wishes Frank Branston a speedy recovery from his two operations after an aortic aneurysm.

We met on Wednesday afternoon in his office to “clear the air” and he appeared in good form. Nobody knows when ill-health will strike and perhaps we should all be thankful for this above all else.

Today’s blog is extracted from Frank’s blog of July 12th when the decision-making process was discussed. One of his respondents (“A Governor”, who does post here occasionally as well in a balanced way) discussed in some detail the difference between the upper-secondary funding plan versus the lower-primary funding, from their experience of a schools building project.

The estimate of the lower-primary switch that “A Governor” comes up with is nearly double the highest figure the education officials have come up with…

To put this in context, Frank had mentioned that the BSF money had already been allocated.

From “A Governor”
We could debate the positive feeling the word “allocated” creates, but whether one’s preference is for significant change or incremental change, it is actually the funding of the move from lower to primary that is the biggest financial concern with the proposal.

As you say, £340m spread between 8 secondary schools is a well funded programme. However, the other piece of this jigsaw is the maybe £45m that needs to fund turning 50-odd lower schools into primaries.

I will reiterate that, because of its huge significance – £340m spread across 8 secondary schools and £45m spread across 50 primary schools.

By definition, move two year groups from middle schools to uppers (secondaries) and retaining two year groups from middles to lowers (primaries) means that broadly the same number of additional children will need to be accommodated at both ends of this transition. Most people would accept that secondaries are more expensive because of their requirement for specialist facilities and so would expect a larger proportion of funding to go to secondaries – but, hey, come on there is a massive disparity in the Borough’s assumptions. I will say again, £340m between 8 schools and just £45m between 50 schools – the numbers are just not comparable.

Looking at this objectively we have figures produced for the new Biddenham loop schools where Mike Berrill has needed to propose two solutions; 3-tier and 2-tier and the difference between a 3-tier lower and a 2-tier primary is £2.7m. This £2.7m difference between lower and primary is for 2-form entry.

My school is in the slightly unusual position that we have architectural drawings for how we would accommodate a change to 2-tier primary. We have 1/2-form entry and the build cost of the change is around 800k.

Comparing Mike Berrill’s figure with our figure demonstrates quite a good correlation between the costs of moving from 3-tier lower to 2-tier primary at around £1.4m per 1-form entry.

In the consultation document we end up with (roughly) 75-form entry across the Borough or around £100-110m to transform all lowers to primaries.

All of the above assumes full permanent accommodation for children as I understand is the plan. The above also doesn’t take into account any overhead incurred by working through a LEP (the NAO’s view seems to be that there is overhead, rather than savings in the experience todate).

As I stated at the beginning, we could debate a preference for incremental rather than massive change but the numbers are deeply worrying whatever your view.

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3 Responses to Day 95 – A Financial Conundrum

  1. River Song says:

    An excellent, clearly explained letter which highlights the funding crisis that will exist for the new primary schools. I think that the new primaries will be expected to make the change to two tier on the cheap: “Make do and mend” the buildings they have, and dip into any reserves they may have been prudent to put by.
    Perhaps the small lower schools should be concerned even more. How long will they survive in this landscape? Will we start to see closure of small rural schools to fund the new larger primaries? What cuts will they make in the future when they realise the financial black hole that will develop?
    Moreover, one of the main arguments is whether these new primaries will be better for upper key stage 2 than the current middle school system. I think not. Will smaller primaries be able to provide the specialist teaching and facilities? Will it be able to provide the clubs and enrichment opportunities on offer in a middle school?

  2. JamesD says:

    I repeat my earlier comment:
    When the capital money runs out?
    Solution: use those sites that have the capacity for very large Primary Schools, say 800 pupils ish – the large ex Middle School sites and those already with collocated Lower and Middles and close all of the other Lower School sites.
    If you value your friendly neighbourhood lower school be very worried about 2-Tier and the “promises” from the Bedford Borough Officers.

  3. […] is woefully underfunded. Our position has always been that this has not been properly costed, that estimates by others with knowledge of educational buildings projects are getting on for double the highest estimate from […]

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