Schools’ merger decision is in best interests of the children

I READ with interest Coun Allan’s comments (News Guardian, October 4).

Once again he has decided to make pronouncements in the press without still meeting me, the CEO of Woodard Academies Trust or King’s School.

He says the decision was “... taken without all governors being involved ...”. Priory School has 15 governors and all attended the meeting when we had the vote, which was 15-0 in favour of the motion to merge with King’s School. That is unanimity.

Last year the council passed a motion to say “... it believes in a fair education system for everyone ...”.

Let’s look at the funding fairness in detail from information for 2011 from the Department for Education’s website.

At £2,988 Priory had the lowest total income (£ per pupil) in the local authority (LA). In fact it was the only school to receive less than £3,000 per pupil from North Tyneside.

The highest total income (£ per pupil) in the LA was £6,647. That school had the highest eligibility for free school meals (FSM) and received 122 per cent more per pupil.

Priory is £591 below its LA median while the highest funded school is £1,933 above its LA median of £4,714.

The difference in funding between the lowest (Priory) and highest is £3,659 per pupil. It’s not even related to free school meals (FSM) either.

The school with the second highest FSM has 55.1 per cent pupil eligibility. It receives £4,746 per pupil.

The second highest funded school has a total income of £6,574 per pupil but its FSM eligibility quota is 42 per cent. How does 35.7 per cent more FSM than Priory translate into funding of over 120 per cent more per pupil than Priory?

There were nine schools with more than 42 per cent FSM. They are all receiving less funding than the second highest funded school.

There are also at least nine schools with lower FSM than Priory (6.3 per cent) but every one of those schools has more income per pupil than Priory.

At least 25 schools in this LA received £1,000 more per pupil than Priory.

Priory had 98 per cent of pupils achieving level 4 or above in both English and maths. This was the best in the LA. It was joint fourth for pupils achieving level 5 or above (40 per cent) in English and maths.

The highest funded school achieved seven per cent at level 5.

Priory’s headteacher and staff are still waiting for their note of congratulations from Coun Allan or the director of education.

The average for level 4 performance across the LA for the 51 schools I could get data for is around 77 per cent, while for level 5 it is 21 per cent.

So the real question for the LA is how is it that the lowest funded school is getting the best results?

Priory’s catchment is not “posh”. Its Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) puts us in the fifth decile: right in the middle. All the schools with a lower IMD (therefore less deprivation) receive more money than us.

But it gets worse. We have been starved of capital funding too.

We have had Portakabins for more than 20 years. We cannot put another hand-dryer in the girls’ toilets because the electrics cannot cope. The decision by the LA to cancel building works planned for this half term is both shameful and petty.

Coun Allan should ask Priory parents for their opinion, which he has singularly failed to do before making his pronouncements.

He states this merger is “... nothing at all to do with the future development of our young people ...”.

He is so wrong: it is everything to do with Priory’s pupils, present and future.

Interestingly, at least one primary school in his ward receives total income per pupil of £4,906 against its LA median of £3,968 (£938 more), which just happens to be £1,918 more per pupil than Priory. Its IMD is seven against five for Priory.

Our governors are thinking about Priory’s pupils because the council isn’t.

On the current funding approach, Priory’s deficit within the next two years will be over £100,000.

Making all key stage 2 support staff redundant would still not balance the budget. That would no doubt drop us nearer to the LA average.

Is that what is meant by a fair education system?

I accept the funding system is complex, but instead of the LA wasting council tax payers’ money on legal advice from a QC to stop our proposal, it would be better spending it on auditors to understand the mess the funding is in and as a minimum make it more transparent and indeed fair.

The LA talks about a fair education system, so apparently if overall education is good, bad or indifferent it’s alright because it’s fair.

For this merger, Priory, King’s and Woodard Academies Trust have talked only about an excellent education for all our children. There’s a stark difference between fairness for all and excellence for all.

What would parents prefer, fairness or excellence? Coun Allan is succeeding on neither front.

The funding system is grossly unfair yet Priory continues to be excellent despite the LA, not because of it.

Given the facts that I have outlined above, our decision to merge to become Kings Priory School is entirely rational, logical and certainly in the best interests of the children attending it.


Chair of Governors

Priory Primary School