Threat to Small Schools?

Below is the text of a letter from Ashley Evans, sent to local newspapers and published in the Hebden Bridge Times/Todmorden News on 27 October 2016.

I am mindful of the proposal to close and transfer Cragg Vale School on the basis that its current building is too expensive to repair and maintain. This is despite over £1m being allocated for this purpose some time ago! Views on a number of options have already been gathered, but not on spending the targeted funds on the existing school in its existing location. Clearly there would be benefits to pupils and parents if this option were adopted.

However, I have a broader concern.

There is a danger that this is the ‘thin end of a wedge’ to progressively wipe out Calderdale’s small, rural, village primary schools, implying that they are no longer economically viable and are unable to deliver a ‘good education’ to youngsters. The need to ‘bus’ children or for their parents to transport them is often excluded from economic calculations.

As to quality of education, there is much evidence to show that children in small schools perform better – irrespective of social group – with good behaviour and positive attitudes to life and learning. They avoid the heavy costs of later educational disaffection and failure while their more enduring school performance enhances their career prospects and boosts future tax revenues.

So, instead of looking at pupil unit costs in isolation, councils should evaluate the benefits of smaller schools in wider economic and social terms. Furthermore, what is often forgotten is that the single most important ingredient in the success of the school is the effectiveness of the Head.

Thinking more creatively, there are also effective economies which can be made without throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Small schools can work together in varying degrees and ways, from informal joint working and sharing of expertise, through employing specialist staff, to more formal federations with a shared governing body and Executive Head.

We urgently need a more sophisticated analysis of the economics of school size. Small schools bring significant benefits including sustaining rural communities. The Cabinet and the Authority should see small schools as assets, not liabilities. They offer a family-friendly, community-based model for education that is too precious to lose.

Cllr Ashley Evans
Liberal Democrat, Warley Ward

£245,696 boost for children in Calderdale

Little girl with mom read book in bed

Nurseries, childminders and other early years providers in Calderdale are set for a £245,696 cash injection to help three and four-year-olds from disadvantaged families.

Children from low income families have often fallen behind more well off classmates before they even start school.​

But from April 2015, the Early Years Pupil Premium – which has been backed by groups like Barnados, 4Children and the Child Poverty Action Group – ​will mean extra money to make sure every child gets a fair start.

Alisdair Calder McGregor prospective parliamentary candidate for Calder Valley said: “By investing nearly 1/4 Million in Calderdale to help the most disadvantaged three and four-year-olds, Liberal Democrats are ensuring that children are getting the best possible start in life.

“All the evidence shows that helping children as early as possible is key to making sure they do not fall behind. That is why this announcement is fantastic news for children.

“This is all part of creating a fairer society and opportunity for everyone.”

Nurseries and schools will be free to choose how to spend the money, which is part of a £50m Government pot.

It comes on top of Lib Dem-led changes in Government to help families, which include shared parental leave, tax free childcare, Free School Meals, and a pupil premium for school age children.

Liberal Democrat Schools Minister David Laws added: “Every child deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential, whatever their background.

“Liberal Democrats in government have already extended free early years education for all children in Calderdale.

“Now this cash boost will mean extra support for those children who need it most.”

Nearly 8,000 pupils in Calderdale will now get free school meals

We have made sure that from this week every child in infant school in England will get free school meals, saving families over £400 a year per child. Here in Calderdale 7,968 pupils aged 5-7 will benefit from this.

This is one of the most important changes in our education system for a generation. A healthy meal at lunchtime for all children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 will raise school standards and help families save money. It would never have happened without the Liberal Democrats in Government, fighting to cut the cost of living.

School lunches for all infants will save parents money, improve children’s education, and make sure more children eat a healthy and nutritious meal at least once a day. Universal free school meals have been shown to work in the pilot schemes run by the Department for Education and Department of Health in 2009.  Schools have had longer to prepare for the introduction of universal free school meals this September than schools in those pilot areas had in 2009.

Schools are receiving a huge amount of support to provide free school meals. We are providing £150m to improve kitchens and dining facilities, as well as an additional £22.5m specifically to help smaller schools.

The Scottish government will receive funding under the Barnett formula and have indicated they will also provide free school meals for infants from January 2015.

Schools Minister, David Laws said:

“The evidence is clear. Providing children with nutritious and delicious meals gives them the fuel they need to excel both inside and outside the classroom, while making them more likely to opt for fruit and vegetables at lunchtime rather than junk food such as crisps.”

Marking the launch, Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said:

“The extension of free school meals to all infants in the country is a positive step in the fight against child poverty. Our analysis shows that about 160,000 more children in poverty will be getting this vital support as a result of this historic move. It shows that the Government recognises the hardship that thousands of families are facing.”

 

New ways sought to improve school buildings

Liberal Democrat councillors are pressing for alternative ways to fund school building works to be explored.

Cllr Ashley Evans (Liberal Democrat, Warley) told us: “It is becoming increasingly clear that some schools in Calderdale would benefit tremendously from a relatively small amount of money being spent on the fabric of their buildings. It is also clear that, because they only need a small amount spending on them, they will never get to the top of a list that also includes multi-million pound schemes that also need to be done.”

We think that a serious discussion needs to take place about rebalancing these priorities. This is especially true in the cases where schools have managed to save up some money to contribute towards the cost of the work. These schools are willing to pay their share, but there doesn’t seem to be any mechanism that allows this to happen.”

In the past, ‘prudential borrowing’ schemes have been pursued, but not anymore. Liberal Democrat councillors have recently suggested setting up a ‘revolving loan fund’, with schools borrowing from, and paying back into it. That hasn’t found much favour though” said Cllr Evans.

We think that there needs to be a discussion about this issue – and one aimed at finding things the council can do, rather than finding reasons not to do them. I accept that money is in short supply at present, but the council has never had, and never will have, enough money to do all the things it wants. That’s even more reason to look at new ways of tackling the problem.”

What next for Early Years and Children’s centers in Calderdale ?

Calderdale Council’s Labour Cabinet has agreed to commission Children’s Centres on the basis of a report from the “Early Years Commission” but local Liberal Democrats involved in this are expressing a number of serious concerns about this and are likely to ask for a more detailed examination of the proposals and the thinking behind them by the Scrutiny Panel.

 In the Cabinet meeting, Cllr Janet Battye (Leader of the Liberal Democrat group) raised two concerns:

First, the lack of vision, and secondly the lack of clear information about costs and funding.

“These proposals should be based on a Vision to guide the shape of these important services. We had just heard the Cabinet agree a Vision for Adult Social Care services, Early Years service also need a vision but the Lead Member saw this coming next and referred to a future meeting of the working group. We expected this to be the other way round, vision first and then the practical application following on.

“We are very supportive of Children’s Centres. Professionally I was involved in opening three of them (not in Calderdale) and Liberal Democrat-run Councils have not closed any and we didn’t when we ran Calderdale. They are important in provide universal support services to all families with young children in the area they cover. But their daycare services are only available to a relatively few children and we wanted to see this as a more inclusive service to more children, so we support the targeted fund but there is little information about how this will work.

“But then, equally worrying, there is very little financial information about the funding available for Children’s Centres. The Lead Member referred to the need for commercial confidentiality about this. We do need to satisfy ourselves that we understand how these proposals are being funded and how sustainable this is. We have repeatedly said this in meetings of the Commission but not received enough information about this.

“There needs to be more thought given to these proposals, in our view, before they are put into place.”

Extra funding for free early years education

The Government has announced additional funding to provide free early years education to two-year olds across England, bringing the number of families eligible in Calderdale up to a total of 1,400 for 2014 up from from 524 in 2013.

childrens-centre-photo

Across the UK that’s 130,000 two-year olds from the poorest homes will be eligible for 15 hours of free childcare a week with a nursery or childminder.

The Government is investing more than £500 million into childcare this year and £100 million through local authorities to create new places to ensure those children eligible right now can benefit from these places.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:

“From today, if you’re a parent on a low income with a two year old in the family your child will qualify for 15 hours a week of free early years’ education.

“These funded places are focused on helping the families that need them most.”

Next year the Government will be investing £760m to help an additional 130,000 two-year-olds in families on less than £16,190 a year who receive working tax credits.

Commenting Cllr Pauline Nash said:

“This is a welcome announcement for families in Calderdale as early education helps promote a child’s physical, emotional and social development. This extra funding is one example of how we are trying to build a fairer society in which everyone has a chance to get on in life.