An emergency government funding pot for schools “in danger of imminent failure” handed out £2.6 million to 29 schools in the past year, Schools Week can exclusively reveal.
But it hasn’t always helped: one school is in the process of closing down despite three separate handouts worth over £400,000 in total.
The emergency fund was established in April last year as part of the Department for Education’s Strategic School Improvement Fund, and can only be awarded under “exceptional circumstances.”
There’s this perception you’re a good school and you don’t need the money
Funds are only given to trusts supporting either an ‘inadequate’-rated maintained school that is not converting to academy status, or an ‘inadequate’ academy which is not moving sponsor.
Coasting schools are also eligible, as are previously ‘outstanding’ schools which have fallen to ‘requires improvement’, or any school where “strong local intelligence” suggests it could drop to ‘inadequate’.
Three separate grants of £167,000, £136,000 and £100,875 were channelled to the Cheadle Hulme High School to support the nearby Manchester Creative Studio, after a damning Ofsted report plunged it into special measures.
Even though £403,000 has been spent on the school, the local regional schools commissioner Vicky Beer warned parents last month she was running a consultation to consider closure, according to the Manchester Evening News.
The situation contrasts with the fate of Harrop Fold School which recently featured in the Educating Manchester series on Channel 4.
This ‘good’-rated school is struggling with a large financial deficit but is unable to secure emergency funds to help.
“It’s difficult because there’s this perception you’re a good school and you don’t need the money,” said Drew Povey, the school’s headteacher. “But we do have real challenges and it would be great to apply for help with a chance of getting it.”
Povey said large amounts of money should be spent where pupils’ futures were at risk, but warned it should not be withheld “until disaster struck”.
“There’s a feeling that money is thrown at schools once the horse has already bolted,” he said.
United Learning also received £150,000 to support Sedgehill School in south London. The trust was advised to apply for the emergency funding after Sedgehill was put into special measures in 2016, according to a United Learning spokesperson.
Sedgehill remains a maintained school as it cannot find a sponsor, despite its close relationship with United Learning. But the school has an expensive private finance initiative contract which would be a financial burden to the trust, said a United Learning spokesperson. However if the financial burden of the contract is reduced, the trust is hopeful Sedgehill could then become an academy and join United Learning.
Taunton Academy in Somerset meanwhile received £213,000 via nearby secondary academy Uffculm School in Devon. The school is now on its way to escaping special measures.
Dan Moynihan, the chief executive of Harris Federation, which has taken over several underperforming schools but did not receive any additional funding, said he felt the emergency funding pot was a “good idea” because exceptional circumstances can hit all schools, particularly smaller ones with fewer resources.
But Valentine Mulholland, head of policy at the National Association of Head Teachers, said real-terms cuts to school budgets
meant more would be “pushed to the cliff edge”.
“Emergency funding may help here and there, but what we really need is sufficient investment across the whole system,” she said.
A Department for Education spokesperson said the emergency funding had been “used for its intended purpose – to help maintained schools and academies which are in urgent need of support to ensure pupils receive a good level of education.”