Day 196 – An Executive Decision

Yesterday the Executive voted for the School Organisation Review’s recommendation that Bedford Borough change from three-tier to two-tier. Those who voted for the change were Dave Hodgson, Charles Royden, David Sawyer, Nicky Attenborough and Will Hunt (although he only voted for this to go to Full Council and may change his mind once it is voted on there). Barry Huckle was absent, but we presume he would also have voted for change. Councillors in favour of retention were Michael Headley, Sue Oliver and Nick Charsley.

This was despite the obvious financial holes in transforming ~50 lower schools to primary schools, which covers 60 square metres of space per classroom but nothing else. There is no money for equipment to fill them, no extra toilets, no corridors or circulation space, no extra staff space, no extra specialist facilities, nothing beyond the classroom shells.

To finance this, the plan assumes £7.5M of future government funding under the Primary Capital Programme, and £15.7M from capital receipts of land sales. It requires “top-slicing” of schools’ budgets. So 0.3% of 2010’s budget, and 0.6% from 2011 onwards…in addition to the massive reduction in education spend already announced from 2011 onwards.

This of course means there would be no money left over for other routine maintenance of school buildings for at least five years.

And what if the building projects over-run or over-spend I hear you ask?

Funnily enough, nobody can answer this one…more “top-slicing”?…more council borrowing?…an increase in council tax?…areduction in other services?

Maybe we should ask John Goldsmith, one of the authors of the report, who has been quoted in the Times & Citizen today on the matter:

JG said “Other authorities when they have made this change have used temporary buildings, but we have been clear from the outset that we want to have permanent buildings in place”.

We would all want that John…but how are you going to achieve it with this level of funding?

Lower school governing bodies did not have the detailed financial proposals when they voted on whether to support the change to two-tier last summer. I’m sure there are some governors who would like to have the opportunity to vote again.

You don’t even have to be a supporter of three-tier education to see that this could set early education back years in Bedford.

Fortunately, it’s not too late to help us persuade councillors to use their vote wisely on Monday evening.

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10 Responses to Day 196 – An Executive Decision

  1. william says:

    It would be really interesting to find out why Mr Headley voted the way he did – was it with his Woodside governor hat on or more importantly with his finance portfolio holder hat on?

    Maybe your pressure needs to be put on Nick Charsley to try and get a whip running!

  2. savemiddleschools says:

    I understand his comments about the decision were concerning finance, not about a particular school. Perhaps someone who was present could enlighten the situation further?

    • william says:

      hopefully they can…… I have to say that if his decision was based on the finance side we should take note! I dont mind admitting to say that I think that man will have been all over the finance and if he has doubts then maybe, just maybe, we all should!

      • Martin Hamilton says:

        William,
        It was clear that Michael voted without his Woodside hat on – indeed the councillors who are governors etc. have all declared prejudicial interests and have been granted dispensation to vote on the understanding that they put those particular interests aside. that’s my understanding anyway. Michael made very clear first that there were costs for entering into BSF funding whether it be 2-tier or 3-tier. However he then proceeded to provide guidance for the additional costs that would have to be borne for servicing debt for the lower school transition in order to make up the numbers simply to the 27 million budget in the proposals. From memory it equated to an extra 3-4% on council tax over the period of the project until receipts for land sales came in but that could be higher as central funding is still uncertain for obvious reasons. He then reminded everyone that a 10% cut in council finance may be coming half-way through next year whoever wins the election. He then went on to say that the 27million budget in any case was adequate only for the bare bones of two classrooms and will not make lower schools fit for purpose as primary schools. Crucially he reminded councillors that they weren’t to think that any more money could be rustled up from somewhere else when it came down to it.

  3. Marie says:

    I completely agree with the logical concerns about funding. It seems completely foolhardy to embark on this expensive programme of capital expenditure when one looks at the UK’s macro-economics and the probable change of Government. I hope that the councillors, yet to vote, will look at the bigger picture and remember that they will be the ones held to account when local elections are next held.

    I truly and deeply believe that 3-tier serves Bedford well. I know my view is shared by many. Therefore, surely it is more prudent to recognise the support for this system and invest in it.

    However, if the Council does vote for the proposed 2-tier system can they truly say, hand on heart, that they believe that small primary schools feeding into enormous secondary schools will support children who are approaching adolescence and life defining exams? I know teachers are highly, dedicated and professional, but how can they provide personalised learning and support in enormous campus style schools? Surely this alone is enough to make any sane councillor realise that voting 2-tier is not going to nuture the Borough’s children, but will instead provide an environment where they can “disappear” within the school’s population.

    The consultation process has been biased. The current councillors were not elected on their stance on this educational question as during canvassing none would be drawn to state their position. I am, therefore, feeling unrepresented and that the electorate’s views are inconsequential in this process.

  4. JamersD says:

    The financial aspects of the report are catastrophic for lower schools. Did I hear correctly when Mr Hilliard gave an improvement in attainment to the top 25% of our similar authorities in 10 to 15 years as his hope? How many generations of children will have their education ruined by this plan. The officers were recruited and in some cases promoted simply on their commitment to 2-tier regardless of educational or financial evidence. Having driven their case to and maybe beyond the legal limits they cannot now back down. I still have tentative belief in local democracy and that at least 19 of our councillors will realise that they have been the subject of a campaign of spin, opinion and deceit. When the Portfolio Member for Finance describes the officers’ financial plan as not creditable it is time for even the most ardent 2-tier supporter to look at the consequences of a change in school structure.

    • Martin Hamilton says:

      James,
      That is what I heard him say – top quartile and I think it was over 10-15 years – I am pressing him for it to be written down – perhaps it will appear in the minutes.

    • william says:

      James,

      I agree with your last sentence and that is the only reason why I am slowley changing my stance and only because said portfolio holder is a well respected member!

      I still think that 2 tier must happen at some time but only when finances are sorted.

  5. SL says:

    In the business world how often would what took place last night happen?
    The person responsible for finance tells the Board, in great detail, that the money for a major project isn’t going to be there.
    Does the Board A. wisely reject the idea or B. take a ‘leap of faith’ and risk financial chaos and the business going under?
    Hmmm! And in this instance it’s public money. Our money!
    Disgraceful!

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