Council wins appeal to transfer schools cash

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West Sussex County Council is to transfer £2.2m of school funding to its high needs budget, despite opposition from headteachers.

The council receives government money each year to fund areas such as special schools and special support centres.

Called the high needs block, it has not been enough to cover all requirements, leaving West Sussex with a budget shortfall in 2017/18 of £2.9m. The shortfall for 2018/19 will be an estimated £4.9m.

The council devised a number of solutions to help balance the budget. One regularly used method was the transfer of 0.5 per cent of its schools block – the budget from which all maintained schools and academies are funded.

The transfer was opposed by headteachers at December’s meeting of the Schools Forum, including those from special schools.

Anticipating the response, and bound by a looming deadline, the council submitted an appeal to the secretary of state in November, before the forum meeting was held.

One of the heads was Grahame Robson, of Manor Green College, in Ifield, which caters for children with moderate to complex learning difficulties.

In a recent interview, Mr Robson said all the transfer achieved was to mask how poorly funded special schools were, while putting additional pressure on the already cash-strapped mainstream schools.

West Sussex is one of the poorest funded authorities in the country and headteachers have been campaigning for fairer funding for more than two years. Mr Robson said: “If we just keep on transferring this money, we’re masking the fact that there’s a crisis.”

As well as being debated by the forum, the transfer was put to consultation among the county’s schools.

The majority view was in line with the forum, but a report to the cabinet member for education and skills, said schools recognised that, if the money was not transferred, “more stringent and radical savings measures would be required”, which would affect the support and learning for vulnerable pupils.

On January 31, the council learned its appeal to the secretary of state had been upheld, meaning the transfer of funds can go ahead.