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SCHOOLS' £170k cash windfall - but is it value for money?

(January 14, 2011)
SCHOOLS in Warminster are to benefit from a cash windfall of £170,000  in the next financial year thanks to two new premium payments brought in by the new coalition government.
Each pupil on free school meals earns a school an additional
£430 a year while those from a service family gain an extra £200.
Some schools in the Warminster area where more than half the pupils are from military families earn a great deal while others, such as Princecroft, which has no military children gets nothing via the military premium.
Princecroft does however earn almost
£10,000  from the free school meal pupil premium.
Two schools, with high military attendances - Avenue and New Close - see their budgets boosted by 4.1 per cent and 3.6 per cent respectively.
The other town schools, Minster, St Johns, Sambourne and Princecroft, where local children make up almost all the pupils, see much less benefit.
All children will benefit to a boost to Kingdown's budget.
Just under 90 per cent of Kingdown's roll is made up of local children but the 10 percent who are military bring in an additional
£32,600 pounds from the military premium whereas the 86 local children on free school meals add £36,980 to the budget bringing it up to £6,080,000 next year.  It has 1,500 pupils which is far too many.
The additional 70,000 pounds could enable the school to employ two additional teachers.
Steve Dancey, who spent four years on Wiltshire Education Committee when local management of schools was introduced, welcomes the changes but has some reservations.
''Ever since school budgets were devolved children in Wiltshire have been getting a raw deal as our children have been regarded as less worth spending money on than children in deprived areas - sometimes an awful lot less,'' he said.
''This change will help to bring additional resources into Wiltshire schools which will be welcome if the money is well spent.
''Nationally however, after 13 years when education spending grew in real terms by 58 per cent under Labour, has throwing money at our poorly performing schools worked?
''I regularly have children sent into my office on work experience and their breadth of ability and knowledge is eye-opening and sometimes their ignorance is eye-watering.
''Throwing money at England's education system will not solve the problem of our drift down international league tables - we need to motivate and stimulate children's work ethic and thirst for knowledge.
''Schools such as Bishop Wordsworth, South Wilts Grammar and St John's Comp in Marlborough obviously manage this feat but it is these well performing schools that have benefited least from the latest funding changes, which is disappointing.''
The new premiums have also thrown up a number of anomalies such as Sutton Veny School which gets
£6,600 more thanks to its 33 service pupils.
''I know from experience that almost all of these children will come from the officers' quarters at Oxendene or Elm Hill or live in big country houses in the villages,'' added Steve.
''The majority of them head off to public school at age 11. Paying a pupils premium to officers' children seems perverse, especially when it is true that the state will also make a contribution to school fees.
''While this extra money is welcome I feel uneasy that this is sending out the message that some children are worth more than others - though of course most people will never have heard of an age weighted pupil unit (AWPU).''
Paul Macdonald, former chairman of the school governers at Princecroft School, is often praised by the then head teacher for successfully introducing local management almost two decades ago.
"As with medicine where it is a post code lottery so education is relegated into this complicated mire," claims Paul.

"In my view the most important change is to take away the pressure on schools to get their pupils through tests and let them teach."

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