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County Council struggling with upkeep of local schools due to lack of funds

Wednesday, March 11th, 2020 6:20pm

By Eddie Bisknell- Local Democracy Reporter @EddieBisk

The county council’s legal duty to maintain the upkeep of hundreds of schools is at risk due to funding shortfalls.

It says the budget issues are being caused by an increasing number of schools converting to academies, in which they become independent of local authority control, and get their money direct from the Government.

Derbyshire County Council has put out an updated risk register to be discussed at cabinet next week.

On this register, it raises fear over its funding for school repairs.

In January, it said it still had a £150 million school repairs backlog but that it was receiving just £7.7 million from central government to support this (five per cent of the total).

This funding is reducing as further schools convert to academies.

The council’s risk register says: “The expansion of the academies programme, alongside other devolved school funding schemes, will continue to affect the funding available to provide services to non-academy schools; in particular the pressure on funding creates risk to the performance of statutory and legal duties regarding the upkeep of school buildings.

“More widely there continues to be a significant effect on demand for council services with related workforce and financing impacts due to reducing economies of scale.”

The council was asked what its ability was to pull funding from elsewhere in its budget to prop up the mammoth shortfall in cash for dis-repaired schools.

A Derbyshire County Council spokesperson said: “The council receives a Dedicated Schools Grant which is ring-fenced to fund the educational needs of children.

“There is nothing to prevent the council topping this up from other council resources. However these resources are aimed at providing all the non-education functions the council has responsibility for such as social care, roads, transport etc, and as such are already under great pressure.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “To help ensure the school estate is safe and supports a high-quality education, we have committed £23 billion over 2016-21 to deliver new school places, rebuild or refurbish buildings in the worst condition and deliver thousands of condition projects across the school estate.

“Funding provided to local authorities for school buildings is reflective of the schools and pupils that the local authority is responsible for.

“Since 2015, allocations have been informed by consistent data on the condition of the school estate.”

It says it has allocated £1.4 billion a year for maintaining and improving schools in addition to the Priority School Building Programme, which seeks to rebuild or refurbish buildings in the worst condition at over 500 schools across England.

The county council now controls fewer than 300 schools (297) and there are now more than 100 academies (111) in the county.

Two years ago these figures stood at 326 and 71.

There are currently some schools going through the conversion process.

The council previously said that its allocated funding was based on how many schools it has to look after – and with more converting to academies, either through choice or by order of the Government, this amount is falling.

A school is often ordered to convert to an academy following poor Ofsted reports or budget struggles.

Once an academy, the school receives funding directly from central government and it has more of a say over opening hours, staff pay, curriculum, behaviour policy and uniform.

This week the county council announced that it would spend more than half a million pounds match-funding 25 school repair projects.

These projects include plans to refurbish toilets, replace boilers, windows, doors, roofs and play areas.

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