The headteacher of two Welsh-medium schools in Wrexham has warned of “cuts in all aspects to the running of both schools” due to increased budget pressures.
A letter sent out to parents and carers by Headteacher Osian Jones on February 21st (the evening of the Full Council budget meeting), comments on the financial pressures schools are facing and that “after years of receiving pretty healthy budgets at both schools, both Ysgol Plas Coch and Bro Alun are going to be affected at this time.”
The letter, which has also been circulated online, continues onto say: “Despite an increase of 1.48% in school budgets from WCBC, as in a high number of schools across the region and further afield, there is a significant shortfall in both Plas Coch and Bro Alun’s indicative budgets for 2018-19.
“Of course, WCBC’s hands are tied to a great extent by the funding they receive from the Welsh Government. Following a meeting with the school’s accountant over half term, it was confirmed that the shortfall in Plas Coch’s budget for 2018-19 was well over £100,000 and Bro Alun’s over £50,000.
“These are huge sums of money and it’s difficult to understand how schools are expected to sustain and improve standards and develop the well-being of children when we don’t receive enough money to help us achieve this.
“Before the federation’s governing body can accept 2018-19’s budgets, the above figures will have to be pulled back to £0. This means cuts in all aspects of the running of both schools, including staffing, resources, training and professional development and services provided, i.e. instrumental lessons.
“As you can imagine, this is a huge challenge.”
It adds: “Two draft plans, one for each school, have been put together to make these cuts and they will be discussed by the governors’ finance sub-committee as soon as possible.
“Naturally, we will make every effort possible to ensure that the financial situation will have as little effect as possible on the education of children at both schools.
“I feel it is important that you, as parents and carers, are made aware of the above situation and if there are any relevant updates over the next weeks and months, I will make you aware of them.”
Original ‘saving proposals’ put forward during last year’s difficult decisions consultation, saw a £1.15m saving produced by a ‘standstill budget’ next year and a £1.4m saving created by a similar freeze a year later.
In December 2017 during a call-in meeting regarding a proposed freeze to school funding, there were warnings that a standstill budget could see a reduction in school staffing in schools and reduced curriculums.
The freeze to school budgets was later reversed, with the council’s revenue budget including a 1.48% rise. However concerns have still been raised by councillors and parents, with some fearing that jobs and courses at schools could be at risk.
Earlier this year we wrote about the pre-budget feedback of some schools that included a dire warning that a headteacher at one local may ‘have to send pupils home’.
However despite the increase funding eventually found by the administration of Wrexham Council budget pressures are creating problems for schools in the area.
Responding to letter, Cllr Phil Wynn, Lead Member for Education, said: “Wrexham schools have recently been provided with their Indicative School Income Budget for 2018/19, along with a forecast of their costs, based on known inflationary cost pressures, using school’s current staffing structures.
“Please be assured our finance officers are working closely with Head Teachers on how best to deliver a balanced budget for their schools, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the challenges faced by any particular school, other than to say this is not an easy task for any of our schools.
“The challenge moving forward is to ensure collectively we do everything possible to ensure our Welsh Government provides a fully funded settlement for all schools from 2019/20 onwards.
“I have already raised this matter with fellow north Walian Education portfolio holders, so with the help of the teaching profession, school governors, Trade Union officials, parents and pupils this is where the focus now needs to turn”.
The headteacher’s letter specifically mentioned the Welsh Government funding as being a cause of the problems, so we asked Lesley Griffiths AM for comment, she said: “I have a great deal of sympathy for Ysgol Plas Coch and Ysgol Bro Alun’s attempts at balancing their budget but for eight long years, the Conservative Party in Westminster has been pursuing its unnecessary austerity agenda.
“It has been their overriding ideological aim and the trickledown effect means more public services getting cut and people, more than ever before, are feeling the consequences.
“The Welsh Labour Government has always done its best to protect the people of Wales from Tory austerity but with over £1 billion taken away from our nation and more cuts in pipeline, the task is becoming more difficult.
“Both schools in the past have received significant investment from Welsh Government and, in spite of the challenging circumstances, the latest Welsh Budget saw an extra £60m outlined for local government, as well as additional funding for education. Wrexham Council’s budget for the upcoming year increased by 0.4% yet this has still not been publicly acknowledged or welcomed by the Local Authority.
“Unfortunately, the Tory/Independent-run administration continues to play political games. They desperately try to pass the buck but the policies being pursued have been solely devised by the local Tories and so-called ‘Independents’.
“When their budget was increased in December, they carried on regardless, accepting pay rises for themselves, cutting services in schools and charging disabled people to park. It is particularly damning of the Local Authority this letter has been sent out to parents the day their controversial budget is ratified.”
“I will continue to stand up for the people of Wrexham but there needs to be more vision, enterprise and innovation from this stagnant administration and more independent thought from the supposedly independent councillors.”
Last week saw school budget information published by Wrexham Council (table below) with the the opening balance for each school as at 1st April 2017, the revised projected balance at this stage for 31st March 2018 and the projected balance carried forward as a percentage of the school’s 2017-18 delegated budget.
The balance figures projected in the below table for 31 March 2018 are based on the most recent projection of the annual expenditure and income for each school.
Based on the figures, overall school balances are projected to reduce during 2017- 18 by nearly a million pounds, £0.988m , to a net total figure of £654k.
The full letter sent to parents can be viewed below…