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Posted by: John Brace | 28th March 2014

3 reasons why Wirral Council got budget projections on Lyndale School so very wrong

3 reasons why Wirral Council got budget projections on Lyndale School so very wrong

                         

Labour councillors at a public meeting of Wirral Council's Coordinating Committee vote to consult on closing Lyndale School (27th February 2014)

Labour councillors at a public meeting of Wirral Council’s Coordinating Committee vote to consult on closing Lyndale School (27th February 2014)

Reason 1: An assumption was made about the minimum funding guarantee

As covered in an earlier blog post, Wirral Council applied to the Education Funding Agency for permission that the minimum funding guarantee requirement that Lyndale School in 2014-15 (minimum funding requirement means it would receive at least 98.5% of the funding it got in 2013-14 when Lyndale School’s budget was £761,733) wouldn’t apply.

You can read Wirral’s application here in response to my Freedom of Information Act request to the Education Funding Agency.

The report to Cabinet uses a figure of a deficit of £72,000 for 2014-15 (see the fourth paragraph of 2.8) which is 9% of Lyndale School’s budget. However Wirral withdrew their application for an exemption from the minimum funding guarantee before the call in meeting.

As this blog post details at the end thanks to the minimum funding guarantee Lyndale now project a small surplus in 2014-15 and the cumulative deficit at the end of 2015 is only projected to be £18,000 rather than the £72,000 figure used in the January Cabinet report.

Reason 2: A prediction about Lyndale’s budget in an unspecified future year

In the same Cabinet report a deficit for Lyndale School’s budget is predicted in an unspecified future year of £160,000 (representing £10,000 for each of the sixteen spare places it has) (see the fourth paragraph of 2.8). This is added to the projected £72,000 deficit to make £232,000. Reason 1 goes into detail as to why the £72,000 figure is wrong.

However the £160,000 figure is wrong (in my opinion) too and here is why. As specified in Wirral Council’s application for an exemption from the minimum funding guarantee, the minimum funding guarantee is a condition of the Dedicated Schools Grant that Wirral Council receive each year from the government for education. The minimum funding guarantee is also a legal requirement.

The full wording of that condition of the 2014-15 schools grant for Wirral Council is only partially quoted in their application for an exemption from the minimum funding guarantee. However it can be found in this document Dedicated schools grant (Departmental guide for local authorities on the operation of the grant 2014-2015) (page 6) and is quoted here:-

Determination of the local funding formula and funding for high needs pupils

“11. The following conditions apply in relation to the determination of the local funding formula and the funding for high needs pupils:

…….

g. in deciding on top-up funding rates for the pupils it will place in special schools maintained by the Authority and Special Academies formerly maintained by the authority, the authority must ensure that the rates for each school are set no lower than at such a rate or rates that, if all the pupils in the school or Academy were placed by the authority, and the total number and type of places remained the same in the two financial years, the school or Academy’s budget would reduce by no more than 1.5% in cash between 2013 to 2014 and 2014-15;”

This reference to a £160,000 deficit can however be read as a reference to Lyndale School’s budget for 2015-16. The government is currently running a consultation on schools funding (which ends on 30th April 2014) called Fairer Schools Funding 2015-16. One of the consultation documents as part of the consultation has this to state on the minimum funding guarantee.

“We will retain the Minimum Funding Guarantee, which has been in place over many years and which dictates that for the vast majority of schools, funding per pupil cannot drop by more than 1.5% per year*”

“*Some funding is excluded from the calculation of the Minimum Funding Guarantee. Details of this are in 2014-15 Revenue Funding Arrangements: Operational Information for Local Authorities.

The latter document specifies a number of exclusions to the Minimum Funding Guarantee, which don’t apply to Lyndale School. Although the government has committed to a minimum funding guarantee for 2015/16 it hasn’t specified what level it will be at as this is dependant on a spending review that has yet to take place. However using Lyndale’s 2013-14 budget as a guide (£761,733), £160,000 represents a massive drop of 21%.

2015 is a General Election year, do you think the government would really set the minimum funding guarantee for 2015-16 low enough to cause the kind of huge deficit that would lead to many schools across the country closing in the months leading to a General Election? Personally I don’t think it would.

3. But what about “Place plus”?

The rationale behind the £160,000 mentioned in reason 2 was that for each place Wirral Council receives £10,000. Lyndale School at the time of writing the Cabinet report had sixteen empty places (16 * £10,000), therefore if the funding Wirral Council receives is based on pupils at Lyndale rather than places Lyndale would lose out due to the empty places.

As mentioned earlier, the minimum funding guarantee doesn’t make this an issue in 2014-15. The way the minimum funding guarantee is calculated for 2014-15 for a special school doesn’t take account of the numbers of pupils or empty places at a school. As the legislation on how to calculate the minimum funding guarantee for 2014-15 quite clearly states:

“references to the number of pupils exclude those funded by a sixth form grant and those in places which the local authority have reserved for children with special educational needs;”

As referred to at the end of reason 2, it’s a General Election year next year, will the government really change how the minimum funding guarantee for special schools is calculated for 2015-16 from a formula based on the total budget of the school to a pupil based formula causing some special schools to close in the lead up to the General Election? I haven’t got a crystal ball, but I doubt they would. Even if the funding formula changes to a more pupil based funding, the minimum funding guarantee for 2015-16 (at whatever level it is set at) should protect schools like Lyndale School from large changes to their budget.

So what do you think? Have I got something wrong? If there is no financial reason to close down Lyndale what’s the real reason? I’d be delighted to read your opinion and you can have your say (even anonymously) by leaving a comment.

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