Yesterday, 10th October, I attended the Schools Forum meeting (as an observer) where the recommendations of the SGRG were discussed. The recommendations of the SGRG were passed, with no objections and very little real debate – SF members seemed comfortable with the recommendations reached. This is good news for small schools in Essex, for the reasons I’ve outlined in my previous posts.
However, attending the SF meeting brought home that, despite the progress we’ve made on the school funding issue, the perspective of small schools in Essex is not really considered. At the meeting, the LA brought for discussion various ideas for improving the budget they have for capital maintenance. One of the proposals was to ask schools to pay for any maintenance up to £10k, with the LA picking up the bill for maintenance above £10k. While only a discussion paper at this stage, I found it remarkable that no member of the Schools Forum raised the concern that fixing this at a constant value, independent of school budget, would be grossly unfair to smaller schools. £10k in the budget of a large secondary school is a drop in the ocean compared to £10k in the budget of a small primary. I raised this issue – after the meeting – with the LA, and they seemed quite open to the idea of considering a proportional value rather than a fixed one. However, the fact that this was not raised in discussion at SF is a symptom of the lack of representation of small schools.
Both in email to me and at the Colchester funding consultation meetings, several people have raised their concerns over this lack of representation. The view of the LA has been that the composition of SF is rigidly determined by recent legislation, and so there is no real room to improve this situation, beyond small schools putting themselves forward to represent all primaries whenever a vacancy next arises. I believe we should do this. However, a closer look at the legislation, the Schools Forums (England) Regulations 2012, suggests that while the LA’s hands may be tied with respect to the composition of those schools forum members who can vote on funding, it may be possible for the LA to propose a new “non schools member”, for example representing an interest group for small schools in Essex, as the legislation seems very open on non schools members (Clause 7 (2)). This would give us a voice and an ability to speak, even if we cannot vote on funding formulae. I have proposed this to Rod Lane (forum chair) and Yannick Stupples-Whyley.
On a related matter, I understand from my own school that Essex is organising a conference of small school HTs and Chairs of Governors on the 22nd November. In case you missed the communication, you can register using this form. I hope to see some of you there!