Cautious welcome for recognition of rural school issues

Ruth Bull, headteacher at Glendale Middle School.
Ruth Bull, headteacher at Glendale Middle School.

The Government has responded to calls over the potentially-damaging effects to rural schools caused by changes to their funding.

Some of north Northumberland’s rural schools, partiuclarly middle schools, have faced serious budget worries after the Department for Education proposed to shake up the funding system.

But this week, a statement from Education Minister David Laws acknowledged that ‘there was concern about the ability of local authorities to support small schools in rural areas’.

It went on to highlight two changes that will now be made. The first will enable local authorities to provide additional funding for schools in sparsely-populated areas and the second will introduce new flexibilities to provide different amounts of funding to cover the fixed costs of schools.

Ruth Bull, headteacher at Glendale Community Middle School, who warned earlier this year that it may be forced to close, told the Gazette that the announcement was good news, but the real key was what this would translate to in actual monetary value.

“I’m delighted and it’s good news that they are going to put money in for fixed costs and the sparsity value is a really good idea,” she said.

“However, the thing that worries me hugely is that the sparsity value is going to be based on how far pupils live from schools.

“It could be as low as two miles and most pupils in Northumberland will come into that and the county will find it difficult to fund.”

MP Sir Alan Beith said that it ‘shows the Government has listened to campaigners for rural schools and recognising the need to review the original proposals’.