Small rural schools warn of closure fears because of unfunded costs

The Guardian has a report on concerns over the future viability of small rural schools because of the changes in unfunded costs they are facing…

Mark Squires, headteacher of Selside school in Cumbria, is worried about his school’s finances. Running in deficit is a problem for any school: for a small one such as his, of just 78 children, with limited financial wiggle room, it can feel like a disaster.

Among the various new troubles this year is the free school meals policy – some of the funds meant for education instead went on a new dishwasher. The school didn’t offer dinners before the introduction of universal infant free school meals last September, and without a dishwasher on site, serving hot food would have been impossible.

And then there are staffing costs. “What’s happening with us and others without kitchens, is the meal providers take the £2.30 we get for the meal,” he explains. “But we have to employ someone to collect the meals, pay for their petrol, and then their time to do the washing up. There’s no money for that.”

“All our parents love having free hot meals, but it’s cost us an additional £7,000 this year and that is our deficit.”

The “per pupil” funding formula for schools announced in 2013 has already hit small schools hard. This year the extra, unfunded, staffing costs have created more problems…

Local authorities and central government recommend that small schools consider federating to share a headteacher. But Jo Redfern, headteacher for two infant schools of 88 and 57 in Nottinghamshire, does not believe that formal cooperation is the answer to poor funding, although she is in no doubt of the benefits of collaboration. “I think it would be wrong to go into a collaboration because you think you’ll save money, because that is not about children’s interests,” she says…


Lots of real examples of the kind of difficulties being faced by small rural schools in the full article with not much in the way of suggestions other than federation (which my children’s schools have recently done). 

How do you see this playing out? Are small schools on borrowed time or do you think solutions can/should be found?

Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. It’s glib to say rural schools should share a head.  They’re usually a long way from each other – the head would spend a considerable time travelling between schools.  A head needs to be present in one school all of the time or s/he could be perceived as an out-of-touch ‘executive principal’ – all data but no presence.

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