Why the closure of Sawyers Hall College could matter to the whole of Essex.

Two themes ran through the article on Sawyers Hall College (SHC) in the 25th April edition of the Brentwood Gazette. The first was the clear priority being given to existing pupils at the school in order that they have the best chance of fulfilling their potential in forthcoming exams or in facilitating a smooth transition to Shenfield High School. Secondly, it was made clear that senior staff are preparing for the closure of the school and that this huge undertaking will continue through the summer. 

http://www.thisistotalessex.co.uk/s-like-family/story-15920637-detail/story.html

SHC Head Stephen Capper is at the forefront of this activity

“It is never pleasant when a school is closed. This one will close because there are too many schools in Brentwood. Everyone agreed it should close.”

He then summarised his task thus:

“You would be amazed how much work there is to do closing a school. It is a huge project. One of the biggest jobs is to remove all the fixtures and fittings. They are all public assets. It is impossible to run a closing school in the black but we hope by selling off as many of these we will get as close as we can to a zero balance.”

This is an important point not just for the schools in Brentwood but probably for those in the whole of Essex. As I understand it, the degree to which the school is in the red following its final closure could affect the size of the dedicated schools grant (DSG) provided to Essex Local Authority (LA) for their schools. This method of funding was introduced in 2006 and is based primarily on money by head of pupil.

http://localgovglossary.wikispaces.com/Dedicated+Schools+Grant

Having done an internet search on the effect of overspend on DSG calculation, it appears that any shortfall is likely to be met out of funds distributed to the LA and, as such, the budget for the next year could be reduced by that amount. This only affects schools that are LA funded but as these are declining in number the possible impact could be considerable.

This is why negotiation over existing assets and the use of the site is so important to all in the county. Despite claims to the contrary from some quarters, much is still to be decided. The Gazette reports:

there are the dozen contracts and leases with outside bodies who use the school’s grounds and buildings, including The Sports Trust, and Extended Schools Services.

The future of much of the 25-acre site is still up in the air. Havering College, which invested £750,000 into converting one of the buildings into The Lanes Hair and Beauty Training facility has a ten-year lease. New free school Becket Keys is taking over the newest block, and possibly the one next door.

On May 25 an announcement will be on made on whether a bid for a University Technical College for the site has been successful, providing the town with facilities for vocational education which all of the borough’s secondary heads say are desperately needed.” 

As we have previously reported, (see links below), negotiation was being led by the Department for Education via Partnership for Learning (PfL). This body ceased to exist from April 1st 2012 however and this function is now being delivered via the Education Funding Agency (EFA). From April 2012, PfS will become part of the Education Funding Agency (EFA), a new Executive Agency within the DfE

Essex CC: SHC site use still undecided.  http://wp.me/p2dr6s-4R

The Sawyers Hall College site: Essex County Council statement  http://wp.me/p2dr6s-3X

http://www.education.gov.uk/aboutdfe/armslengthbodies/b00199952/the-education-funding-agency

The stated role of PfL was as “the government’s delivery agent for capital investment programmes into schools, helping to ensure that taxpayers get the best value from every education pound spent.”  There is no such statement in the EFA business plan but it is clearly of vital importance in cases such as this.

Plainly minimising any funding shortfall for students in LA maintained schools for next year should be a primary consideration of all those engaged in negotiations over the future use of the site. The educational resource available to hundreds of children in Essex could depend on it.  

Stephen Mayo

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