Governors in West Sussex plan strike over school funding

Plans for the first “strike” of school governors have prompted a warning about the morale of volunteers who are being forced to make school staff redundant as budgets tighten.

Governors in West Sussex have written to MPs threatening to stop signing off budgets and carrying out supervisory work in protest over a growing school funding crisis.

In their letter, seen by the BBC, governors have expressed “shock and incomprehension” about what funding cuts will mean for their schools.

According to teaching unions, the county faces budget cuts of more than £28 million over the next two years, equivalent to £287 for each pupil.

Although governors are not employees, they can refuse to carry out their duties, which include oversight of recruitment.

The “strike”, believed to be the first of its kind in England, has prompted a warning from a senior governance expert who feels that being forced to make tough financial decisions could put off volunteers.

Morale in the governance community was “not high at the moment, and hasn’t been over the past year or so”

Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association, said the action in West Sussex was a “good PR tactic” to highlight governors’ funding concerns, but warned there were “moral and practical implications” that made longer-term action untenable.

“A school could get by in the short term if governors decided to [strike], but if it got towards the medium term we would be encouraging people to do what they are supposed to do,” she said.

Knights said morale in the governance community was “not high at the moment, and hasn’t been over the past year or so” – with money the main trigger.

“People volunteer to make a difference to pupils and their communities. They don’t expect to be making people redundant. That’s a really tough call and, as volunteers, you might ask yourself if this is really what you want to do.”

Knights said academy trustees could face dismissal if they failed to carry out their duties, depending on the rules set by individual trusts. In local authority-maintained schools, it would be up to councils to intervene if the work of governors was not completed.

Last October, the head of every primary, secondary and special school in West Sussex wrote to parents warning that they could be forced to cut school hours and move to a four-day week.

Rising costs and flat funding mean schools are facing real-terms cut in their funding of about 8 per cent over the next few years.

The government is currently consulting on plans for a new national funding formula, which will redistribute existing funding in a bid to address historical regional variations.

Ministers say West Sussex schools will be 3.5 per cent better-off in 2018-19 as a result of the policy. Schools minister Nick Gibb
and Justine Greening’s parliamentary private secretary, Henry Smith, both represent constituencies in the area.

“We are consulting on how we propose to weight funding and we know that it is important that we get the formulae and system right so that every pound of the investment we make in education has the greatest impact,” a spokesperson for the Department for Education said.

“The consultation will run until March 22, and we are keen to hear from as many schools, governors, local authorities and parents as possible.”

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