The Education Minister has denied allegations of schools being underfunded, as it emerged that primary, secondary and special schools are forecast to go £3.3m into deficit this year.
The news comes just a week after Haute Vallée governors said their school has been operating with budgets slashed “to the bone” for many years due to “gross underfunding”, with the Board left with no choice but to allow Headteacher Stuart Hughes to go over budget this year to avoid cuts to the curriculum.
“After we’ve paid the bills and the wages there’s no money left. We cannot buy school books, we cannot buy pencils,” Philip Le Claire, the Chair of the school’s Board of Governors, told the Children and Education Scrutiny Panel last week, later adding that the school is already recycling paper and other resources as much as possible “to save as much money as they can.”
Alongside former Chair Phil Horsley, he further stated that work by local headteachers to update the schools funding model - based on a concept drawn up in 1992 - had identified a £23m deficit in non-fee-paying schools funding, which had been acknowledged by Group Director of Education Sean O'Regan.
Overall, the pair concluded that the Government was not 'putting children first' as it had pledged to do, and handed back a Government poster featuring the message.
But the Education Minister disputed this figure when he appeared before the Scrutiny Panel yesterday, saying he had never heard of the £23m gap until it was raised by the Haute Vallée Governors last week.
Video: The moment the Chair of Haute Vallée's Board of Governors handed back the 'putting children first' pledge.
Pushed by Deputy Rob Ward, the Panel’s Chair, to explain where the figure had come from, he then said: “There was a consultation piece of work which was done with headteachers to look at a level of ‘the art of the possible’, what kind of funding they believed would be required for them to have a decent level of funding throughout their school.
"That piece of work came up with that figure, and then that figure needed to be looked at from there to make sure that there wasn’t double work counting in it or that we can do things in the right manner.”
The Minister also rejected the Governors' claim that he had used the phrase "the pot is the pot" when asked how he would address school funding issues.
“Firstly, just to make things clear, at no point during our meeting on 22 September did the words ‘The pot is the pot. What do you want me to do? Stop digging our roads?’ come out of my mouth. That was a completely incorrect statement from me,” he said.
Pictured: Education Minister Deputy Scott Wickenden on a visit to Grands Vaux School last week.
“What I actually did is speak to the former governor to explain how the Government Plan process works. I spoke about how to put more money in education would mean I would have to have conversations with other Ministers to talk about how we would reduce their funding and what that could look like to be able to increase funding somewhere else.
“...I said [to Mr Horsley] there would have to be a discussion to say, ‘Would we do less maintenance on the sewage? Would we do less road resurfacing? Would we put less money into the Environment Department?’
"Those are the discussions that would have to happen when a case is put forward for more money for one department - it has to come from somewhere. But at no point did I put such a disparaging comment out in such a way.”
Later on in the hearing, Deputy Ward pressed for answers over the level of deficit in local schools, which the Minister admitted has affected “every primary and secondary school…. over the last number of years”.
Anne Homer, the Head of Finance and Business Partnering who is looking after the CYPES Department, said primary and secondary schools are currently expecting to go £1.1m and £1.3m over budget respectively, with special schools going £900,000 over budget. Meanwhile, Highlands College is set to break even.
Pictured: The Minister said "every primary and secondary school" has been overspending "over the last number of years”.
She explained that covid was believed to account for "about half" of additional expenses.
Deputy Ward and Senator Tracey Vallois also pushed to understand how much additional funding the Government was planning to put towards the schools, with the former particularly seeking to understand the difference between funding that would “move schools on” and what was “just a plaster over the wound of underfunding”.
Following discussions, it emerged that £6.25m had been allocated to that effect in 2021, followed by £7.8m in 2022, which the Panel members were assured would be “just the money allocated to schools onto their budget”.
However, Programme Director for the Education Reform Programme Jonathan Williams, then explained the additional funding was actually only £1.6m as the forecast deficits already included the £6.2m allocated this year.
Pictured: Deputy Ward said the additional funding was "peanuts" given the demographics pressures.
“Really, we are only talking about £1.6m of extra funding going in across all schools, which if I can use the phrase, really is peanuts given the demographics pressures we have,” Deputy Ward commented.
This view was rejected by the Director General for CYPES, Mark Rogers, who suggested looking at the “whole programme” and the “actual investment” which he said was £7.46m rising to £11.2m in 2022.
Deputy Ward however said this has been considered and that he wanted to know how much money was specifically going into the frontline of schools: to buy books, pens, textbooks, and equipment, as well as pay for the new curriculum that comes through.
The Minister said that, while he couldn’t be held to account for the deficit incurred prior to him coming into position, work was ongoing to take the schools out of a position where they have to run a deficit.
Express spoke to Haute Vallée's Chair of the Board of Governors, Philip Le Claire, last week about how schools cope with slashed budgets, and what 'putting children first' really looks like...
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