Lack of council investment pushing schools towards becoming academies, claim oppositionBy Jon Nurse
March 01, 2013
‘Insufficient’ funding is driving ‘deteriorating’ schools to become academies, claims a councillor.
Council bosses denied the borough’s schools were falling apart and financial deals from Government were enticing headteachers to leave local authority control.
At a full council meeting on Thursday, Councillor Beth Rowland said she was saddened by Wokingham Borough Council’s investment in secondary schools over the past years.
She added: “You [the council] are at the point at which more secondary schools will be academies than will remain with the council. What is the biggest issue driving them into it? Money. Especially money for maintenance and improvements.
“I think it is really sad you are now prepared to borrow millions and millions of pounds to pour into Wokingham town centre, but in the past wouldn’t borrow even a fraction of that to repair our schools. What does this say to our young people?”
After the meeting, deputy leader of the council Cllr Rob Stanton said: “The financial plan shows that £1 million will be invested in school maintenance every year for the foreseeable future. That is in addition to kitchen improvement work, which has seen hundreds of thousands of pounds invested over the last few years, and that is planned to continue.
“It’s not fair to stand up and say our schools are falling to pieces. We are giving every penny we can to schools and are committed to continue to do so.”
Cllr Rowland said there was £20 million in repairs outstanding across the borough’s schools in 2009, when the council cut the budget for school maintenance by 40 per cent, and she has been unimpressed with the strategy on show since.
She added: “All this time you have dithered about from one extreme to the other with no coherent plan as to how you will address the deteriorating fabric of all our secondary schools. That has to stop.
“You need a coherent plan for what you are going to do about secondary schools. We have been telling you this for a long time. Let’s hope you manage to put a strategy in place before so many of the secondaries have become academies that it is too late to have any meaning.”
Of the eight secondary schools in the borough, The Piggott School in Wargrave, Maiden Erlegh School in Earley and The Holt School in Wokingham are academies, with The Forest School in Winnersh also in the process of leaving local authority control. The schools are being enticed by better financial deals with which the council can’t compete, according to Cllr Stanton.
He added: “In the secondary sector, we are currently investing £6 million in The Bulmershe School, £5.5 million in St Crispin’s School and the on-going spend in The Emmbrook on flood defences and maintenance continues. All this in the lowest funded council in England, not bad.”