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Funding switch sparks school closures fears in Cumbria
MORE than 30 rural schools could close across Cumbria after a radical shake-up of Government funding rules, it is feared.
Under plans to introduce a new national funding formula, some headteachers face losing nearly a third of their budgets.
The changes — designed to simplify the current funding system from a 32-point criteria to 11 — would give education authorities less flexibility when allocating money.
And they would force Cumbria County Council to scrap an ‘additional funding allowance’ it uses to protect schools in isolated communities.
Instead, each school — regardless of size — would receive a £70,000 lump sum, leaving some worse off by more than 25 per cent.
The Government believes the move will make the funding system more consistent and fairer across the country but Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron feels the changes would have the opposite effect in Cumbria.
He said 32 rural schools could shut under the proposals, threatening communities and displacing thousands of youngsters.
“If they closed, it would be an unthinkable blow to the communities they serve, particularly children and parents who would have unbearable journey times,” said Mr Farron.
“These aren’t unviable schools; they are small but only because they serve very small catchment areas. We need them to stay open. This is a massive threat to schools and communities.”
Sedbergh’s Settlebeck School could lose more than a quarter of its budget — nearly £265,000 — and would be the hardest-hit school in South Lakeland.
But headteacher Judith Greene played down Mr Farron’s comments, saying: “We are an outstanding school, so we aren’t at risk.
“Every school has to have the same lump sum — whether you’re a 28-strong primary or a 1,400-pupil secondary, so that doesn’t seem very sensible. We need to have some flexibility in order that small rural schools can be protected.”
Miriam Bailey, headteacher of John Ruskin School, Coniston, which stands to lose £185,011 — 16 per cent of its budget — said: “The new national funding formula does not protect schools from large and impractical budget cuts and may well result in some school closures.
"It may actually change the demographics of an area as families will choose not to live in the more isolated communities because of the distance to secondary provision.”
Others losing out include Crosthwaite Primary School, (a 13 per cent cut — £35,181) Witherslack’s Dean Barwick School (an 8.4 per cent cut —£16,626) Kirkby Stephen Grammar School (a 9 per cent cut - £157,642) and the Lakes School ( 5.3 per cent — £123,210).
The guidelines would kick in next April, but a two-year transition period means no school would see more than a 1.5 per cent cut before 2015.
Cumbria County Council has launched a consultation on how the rules should be applied here but its leader Eddie Martin warned the impact could be ‘massive’.