Day 183 – The Cost to Communities

October 30, 2009

Following on from yesterday’s “green” blog, communities may find there are more knock-on effects, especially in rural areas. When the money runs out, the spectre of closing smaller village schools and combining them into much bigger primary schools sited where the middle schools used to be could become reality.

That would really show efficiencies of scale. It would also show a complete and utter lack of understanding of why many people choose to live in the countryside.


Day 182 – Environmental Cost

October 29, 2009

One of the costs of change that hasn’t been explored fully is the potential environmental cost. Why are we going to pull down existing buildings rather than refurbishing and re-using them? What environmental consequences might there be with new larger schools and pupils travelling greater distances to them? How many more car journeys will there be across Bedford each day?

This isn’t a decision that will just affect children, schools and families – it will affect all of us in our daily lives.


Day 181 – Primary Funding

October 28, 2009

It takes massive sums of money to change an authority’s schools from three tier to two tier. Redeployment of buildings and of staff (600 redundancies are planned in Bedford Borough) takes a vast amount of resources in itself, which is perhaps why BSF programmes have been beset by bureaucratic overspend, especially on consultants’ fees – £350M, even if it does exist, may well be insufficient for the task ahead.

Where, of course, funding is practically non-existent, is in the lower-primary switch. Estimated at a maximum of £60M in the consultation document, with £30M of borrowing against future capital receipts, this is a woeful underestimate of the true cost. Remember, this is the same number of pupils being subsumed into lower schools as into upper schools, and it is intended to cost about 1/6.

The real scandal is that Bedford Borough is that any shortfall in funding for the change to two-tier is going to be taken from the Dedicated Schools Grant. Read our letter to Chairs of Governors from September 1st.

This, of course, is in addition to the national £2 Billion cut in schools’ budgets from 2011.

Schools are under enough financial pressure as it is – why would we subject them to a very uncertain future by creating potential chaos?


Day 180 – It’s the Economy Stupid!

October 27, 2009

Another issue (raised repeatedly by Alistair Burt during the past six months) has been whether BSF funding is guaranteed.

Critically, nobody will assure him that £350M will be forthcoming. More worrying, nobody knows just what may happen in the next 18 months as a new Government comes into power.

What is certain is that public finances are in a shocking state – the country is £175 Billion in debt and last week there were rumours of more “quantitative easing” by the Bank of England…another £50 Billion was mentioned, which is getting on for another £1000 of debt for every person in Britain.

Every part of the public sector is already notified of cuts from 2011. The “Golden Age” of public funding is over and schools are already looking at a 2% cut in funds, without the ball and chain of funding the lower to primary switch from their own budgets.

BSF was seen as the Golden Goose for Bedford Borough – but it won’t be laying those golden eggs for much longer and there is a very great risk that funding will be pulled or reduced in the middle of a change to two-tier.

This would be disastrous, as underfunded change in Northampton and Oxford has demonstrated. Suffolk are so worried by these events that they have curtailed their school reorganisation in the middle, leaving whole areas in limbo.

Bedford Borough needs to act prudently at this time – a move to change every school at once is too risky, aside from being too disruptive and unlikely to lead to school improvement.

It would be much better to bid for BSF funds targeted at transforming underperforming schools in disadvantaged areas and upgrading specific facilities in other areas that are in a desperate state of repair.

Evolution not Revolution


Day 179 – BSF Spin

October 26, 2009

About 12 months ago, Chris Hilliard and the late Graham Last negotiated in principle a sum of £350M of BSF funding for Bedford Borough. Brian Glover, appointed to continue this work, then ensured that any capital receipts would be retained by Bedford, instead of 50% being returned to BSF as in usually the case.

Whether or not this money will exist under a new Government, we have always recognised that this was magnificent and all those involved should be commended for their professional efforts.

However, where we disagree is how this information appears to have communicated, or indeed spun.

It was allowed to become “public knowledge” that the £350M was apparently linked to changing to two-tier. Furthermore, that we would be unlikely to receive funding to remain three tier as this would not demonstrate a “transformation” of our schools. The late Frank Branston implied or stated this in public several times.

Nadine Dorries then made a crucial intervention by gaining permission for an Adjournment Debate on July 6th, where she and Alistair Burt received assurances from Iain Wright (the Schools’ Minister) that BSF funding was not linked to any particular school system, that three-tier bids have been successful recently, and that the Government’s position on school systems is that it should be a local decision made by local people – nobody has ever shown that one system is better than another.

The problem is that many parents who filled in the School Organisation Review didn’t realise this; in fact many of them probably still believe the spin which came from those in positions of power. So how relevant are the results from the review when it is published on Nov 4th?

SMS calls on councillors to use their judgement on this rather than accepting the official version of events. The fates both of our children’s education and the Borough’s financial future are in your hands.


Day 176 – Educational Half-Truths (4)

October 23, 2009

Continuing our theme this week…most of the arguments pro two-tier are based on half-truths. This is an excellent way to mislead, because the unwary recognise the half that is true and fail to spot the logical inconsistency in the other 50%.

Example number 4:

Pro two-tier: Secondary schools are so much better because they match their teaching to the National Curriculum Key Stages.

Pro three-tier: So do lower and middle schools – the National Curriculum is a continuous and hopefully progressive journey, not distinguished necessarily by age but by natural development.

This, of course, is the same National Curriculum that is being dismantled piece by piece by the current Government…not to say what the next Government will attempt to do to Schools.

Michael Gove for example seems very keen to change things, and I’m sure he won’t stop introducing new initiatives just because Bedford is busy changing school system !

Read more educational arguments under the Summary tab above – back on Monday looking at finance (or rather the lack of it).


Day 175 – Educational Half-Truths (3)

October 22, 2009

Continuing our theme this week…most of the arguments pro two-tier are based on half-truths. This is an excellent way to mislead, because the unwary recognise the half that is true and fail to spot the logical inconsistency in the other 50%.

Example number 3:

Pro two-tier: GCSE choices are very difficult in Year 9 because teachers don’t know the children well enough.

Pro three-tier: Teachers in secondary schools of 2000 pupils do not “know” their pupils very well at all. They turn up each September with almost entirely new faces in each of their classes and start from scratch again, learning new names and adjusting to new personalities. That’s if the teachers themselves aren’t new themselves…in fact it’s probably a struggle to know the names of all one’s colleagues in such large schools !

As for GCSE choices, Secondary Schools rarely begin to think about these until the start of Year 9 and there are now also a range of post-14 options, many of which are not taught to younger pupils, so these would be unfamiliar to everyone.

GCSE choices are always concerning for children and parents – and there is no reason why the process cannot start in Year 8 as part of the transition to upper school – it’s a pretty flimsy reason on which to base massive disruption of a generation of schooldchildren.