Action needed over West Sussex £8m school grant cut

West Sussex County Council office complex in Chichester  PICTURE:JONATHAN BRADY  (034406-85)
West Sussex County Council office complex in Chichester PICTURE:JONATHAN BRADY (034406-85)

EDUCATION is on the agenda at a county council meeting today (September 26), as councillors will discuss how to get around a £8m pay cut to schools grants.

A redesign of the way the council provides education will be put before the children and young people’s services select committee.

This is because it is estimated the amount the council receives in its education services grant from the government will decrease from £12m in this current year, to around £4m in 2018/19.

The ‘lost’ money will instead go directly academies and free schools.

But West Sussex County Council still need cash to deliver services such as ensuring sufficient places are available in schools, continuing to support schools to raise standards and supporting learners with special educational needs.

“The potential impact on children and young people in West Sussex of the county council failing to deliver its statutory and strategic priorities means it is essential to redesign the learning service,” said a report to be put before councillors today.

The report, prepared by director of communities commissioning Susan Hawker and strategic commissioner for learning Brin Martin, asks committee members to let officers explore several options to keep the service running smoothly.

This is particularly urgent, as a report from officers estimates 100 per cent of secondary schools and special schools in the county will have converted to academies by 2018.

Not all primary schools are expected to have become academies by this point, but the council estimates a staggering reduction in the number of students in council-controlled schools – more than a 50 per cent drop.

The report puts forward several options to consider. These include outsourcing the service to a private company, merging with another local authority, or a joint venture – a business arrangement with two or more parties to pull their resources together.

The preferred option at this time seems to be outsourcing the service, ‘based on exploratory discussions with other local authorities and suppliers’.

Officers recommended committee members vote to allow them to explore these three options, otherwise ‘the authority’s ability to meet its statutory requirements will be severely compromised’.

An in-house restructure was rejected, as a reduction in staff would ‘put the delivery of statutory services at risk’ and would put ‘intolerable pressure’ on staff.

Committee chairman Richard Burrett said: “This is an important project which will significantly change the way the county council provides education support services.”

A webcast of the meeting can be viewed live on the council’s website from 10.30am at www.westsussex.gov.uk