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Funding Issues for Schools with a Regional Role

[This paper is not written as a criticism of Wandsworth LEA, who are as supportive as is reasonable within current regulations, nor is it written as a result of any current budget crisis for this school. It covers issues relevant to a relatively small number of special schools with a regional role providing for low-incidence disability groups.]

Oak Lodge is a school for deaf children, providing for the needs of 92 pupils from 24 LEA's, mostly in Greater London. We are maintained by the London Borough of Wandsworth, although we have just two Wandsworth pupils.

As a Wandsworth school, we are subject to local priorities, local arrangements and local funding formulae - as I am closely aware as the vice-chair of Wandsworth's Schools' Forum. Wandsworth LEA recoup funds from the other LEA's, based on actual per capita, revenue costs of running the school. When we want to start new initiatives, we are told, accurately, that any additional expenditure will be at the expense of other Wandsworth schools.

Under the current arrangements, any capital expenditure by Wandsworth on this school cannot be recouped from other LEA's (the regulations allow for such recoupment, but other LEA's are not required to pay it, so don't!). We have urgent capital cost needs, but they are inevitably going to be low priority for Wandsworth.

The current recoupment regulations for state special schools do not allow for differential recoupment for pupils with a range of needs. Hence, a pupil with more straightforward needs is costed for recoupment purposes as the same as a pupil with extremely complex needs (e.g. deaf + learning difficulties + autistic). This means that a school such as ours is very cheap for the most complex pupils, when compared to the independent sector, who can charge differentiated fees. This leads to an increase in referrals of the more complex pupils to state schools such as ours, with no concomitant increase in our budget from our LEA to meet those more complex, and expensive, needs.

As a special school with a regional role, we are not eligible for substantial funding streams such as Excellence in Cities (although we have an extremely deprived population of pupils), Access Initiatives for Special Needs, Behaviour Improvement Programmes (limited to secondary mainstream schools), SRB funds (locally focused), etc., etc.

I am most concerned that future developments, particularly those resulting from Children's Trusts, and Extended Schools, will also miss us out. These are to be local developments, and we are not a local school! I absolutely endorse the principles behind their establishment. It is one of my many frustrations that there needs to be positive co-operation and a joining up of services for children between education, health and social services - but we deal with 24 different LEA's, 24 social service departments, 24 transport departments, 24 Connexions departments, and not many fewer NHS Trusts!

My Vision
There needs to be:
1. A Deaf Children's Trust for Greater London, with joined-up services for deaf children across the region, with schools, H-I Services, Social Service Departments, Health Services, Sign Language training for parents and professionals, Deaf Awareness training for everybody, staff training in specific issues (e.g. child protection for deaf children, information provision for families, etc.) There are already plans for an NHS Deaf Healthy Living Centre in Haringey (a development I have long been involved with). Oak Lodge is very well placed to play a leading role in such an initiative.
2. A regional funding stream, for schools such as ours, and other schools for low-incidence disability groups who have regional roles, to enable us to develop provision for these low-incidence groups without disadvantaging the other schools in our LEA. We have a vital role in providing training, qualifications, quality assurance and support for families that cannot be replicated elsewhere. We need to offer an extended curriculum for our pupils, with an extended day, and also hands-on family support. To do this, we need an additional funding stream, possibly through the Government Office for London, to enable us to provide these services. Within our current budget this is not possible, and through Wandsworth, equally impossible, because of the regulatory constraints. I am talking about relatively small amounts of money - around £500,000 per regional special school per year.

Peter Merrifield, Headteacher/Head of Service
January 2005

101, Nightingale Lane, London SW12 8NA Tel: 0208 673 3453
Website: www.oaklodge.wandsworth.sch.uk

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