Concern at underfunding for Cornish primary schools

Falmouth Packet: Concern at underfunding for Cornish primary schools Concern at underfunding for Cornish primary schools

Cornwall Council has expressed concern at the news that the Government has "underfunded" the provision of additional places at eight primary schools in Cornwall.

The council says it originally submitted a bid in April to the Education Funding Agency (EFA) for £18.8M of Targeted Basic Need Funding to provide an additional 840 school places in Cornwall.

The bid was to provide additional places in eight areas where there is the greatest pressure on school places, including at schools in St Austell, Newquay, Bodmin and Redruth.

The authority heard in July that its bid had been successful and that all eight school expansion schemes would be funded. A letter sent to Trevor Doughty, director of children’s services, on  July 30 stated: “The Targeted Basic Need Programme will fund the provision of new, high quality school places in locations experiencing basic need pressures in order to prepare for future rises in pupil numbers. It gives additional support to those local authorities experiencing the greatest pressure on places by funding new academies and free schools as well as enabling investment to expand outstanding and good schools with high levels of demand”.

The Council was also told that officials in the Education Funding Agency would be providing its officers with further information in the near future.

The authority says it was then contacted by the EFA on August 1 requesting additional information in support of the application. However, instead of confirming that the Council would be receiving the £18m originally requested, the authority was told that it had only been allocated £7.8m for all eight schemes- £11m less than the bid submitted and previously approved.

The letter from the EFA stated that the level of funding was based on expected construction costs, which are calculated on a national construction framework for the building of new schools, rather than the expansion of existing schools.

Faced with this "shock announcement", council officers immediately reviewed the plans to see if an alternative solution could be identified which could deliver the urgently needed school places within the reduced funding. Unfortunately this showed that even adopting a scaled down approach involving a modular building programme would still cost around £11.2m – leaving a minimum shortfall of £4.2m.

The Council says it wrote to the EFA on 16 August expressing significant concern over the amount of the allocation and requesting that the total award should be increased to reflect the actual level of building costs in Cornwall. This request is currently being considered.

A meeting was held with the eight schools identified for expansion on September 17 so that the council could share this information with the headteachers and chairs of governors. The council and the schools concerned are currently seeking alternative routes to secure additional funding to ensure these school places are provided, however a solution has not yet been identified.

Andrew Wallis, the Council’s Lead Member for Children and Young People, said “To say I am disappointed with the Government would be a massive understatement.

“I find it hard to believe that on one hand the Government informs the Council that we have all our bids and funding approved, but then find out the actual funding does not even cover the basic build costs. This leaves the Council in a difficult position regarding having to provide extra school places without the correct funding to do so”.

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