FOUR Cornish towns are facing a primary school places crisis after the Government failed to honour a promise to provide £18.8 million in education funding.
Eight schools in Newquay, St Austell, Bodmin and Redruth, which experience the greatest pressure on places, were set to use the cash to build new classrooms to create 840 extra spots.
But the Education Funding Agency (EFA) recently informed Cornwall Council it would now receive just £7.8 million - less than half the amount previously approved.
Education officers at the unitary authority say the cash is not enough to complete the planned building work at the eight sites, even if they downgrade to using mobile classrooms.
The news means pupils could have to travel miles to out-of-town schools, and has led Andrew Wallis, the council’s lead member for children and young people, to lobby ministers to reconsider the decision to slash funding.
He said: “To say I am disappointed with the Government would be a massive understatement. I find it hard to believe that on one hand the Government informs the council that we have all our bids and funding approved, but then find out the actual funding does not even cover the basic build costs. This leaves the council in a difficult position regarding having to provide extra school places without the correct funding to do so.”
The council originally submitted its bid to the EFA for £18.8 million in April, under the Targeted Basic Need Funding scheme. It then heard in July that the bid had been successful and that all eight school expansion schemes would be funded.
A letter sent to Trevor Doughty, director of children’s services, on July 30 stated: “The Targeted Basic Need Programme will fund the provision of new, high quality school places in locations experiencing basic need pressures in order to prepare for future rises in pupil numbers. It gives additional support to those local authorities experiencing the greatest pressure on places by funding new academies and free schools as well as enabling investment to expand outstanding and good schools with high levels of demand.”
However, just three days later the authority was contacted again by the EFA to be told the funding had been cut by £11 million.
A council spokeswoman said: “The letter from the EFA stated that the level of funding was based on expected construction costs, which are calculated on a national construction framework for the building of new schools, rather than the expansion of existing schools.
“Faced with this shock announcement, council officers immediately reviewed the plans to see if an alternative solution could be identified which could deliver the urgently needed school places within the reduced funding. Unfortunately this showed that even adopting a scaled down approach involving a modular building programme would still cost around £11.2 million – leaving a minimum shortfall of £4.2 million.”
The authority wrote to the EFA on August 16 expressing “significant concern” over the amount of the allocation and requesting that the total award should be increased to reflect the actual level of building costs in Cornwall.
A meeting was held with leaders at the eight schools on September 17 when alternative funding options were explored. However, the spokeswoman confirmed that no solution had yet been identified.