THE four headteachers of Bournemouth and Poole's grammar schools have slammed BCP Council in a letter to the Secretary of State for Education.

Dr Dorian Lewis from Bournemouth School, David Sims from Bournemouth School for Girls, David Hallsworth from Parkstone Grammar School and Dr Amanda Smith from Poole Grammar School penned the letter to Gillian Keegan MP.

In the letter, the heads said: “We have no confidence in the ability of BCP to manage the DSG effectively and meet its statutory obligations.

“It is our belief that BCP have mis-managed the DSG [dedicated schools grant] since its inception in April 2019.

“Consequently, they wish to mitigate their incompetence by raiding school budgets without any consideration of the implications on the quality of education for our young people or the pressure placed upon those working in schools.”

Bournemouth Echo: David Hallsworth is headteacher of Parkstone Grammar School.

The quartet called on the minister to investigate the authority in the way its budget has been determined.

The council, they say, has not followed published guidance, and this brings the schools funding below the nationally set minimum per pupil funding level (MPPFL).

“For the academic year 2024 to 2025, the national MPPFL is £5,995 per pupil,” the letter said.

“Our schools are being funded at the rate of £5,968 per pupil, which results in each of our schools receiving around £25k less than we were expecting.”

The heads said that the ‘substantial decrease’ in funds has come as a result of the DfE accepting an application from BCP Council to transfer 0.5 per cent of funds from the schools block (of the dedicated schools grant) to the high needs block.

This is despite the objections of the Schools Forum in the conurbation, they said, adding that the application included noting that the forum had only agreed to the transfer of the surplus schools block funding, which is 0.1 per cent, or £400,000.

Bournemouth Echo: Dr Amanda Smith is headteacher of Poole Grammar School.

As reported, the council is currently faced with a £63million education deficit.

It was recently rejected from the government’s controversial Safety Valve programme, which would have helped tackle the deficit through strict cost saving methods and reforms, but the council’s proposal did not meet the required criteria.

“We feel it is our great misfortune to be located within this authority,” the heads said.

“Through their long-term mismanagement of their services, BCP council have indicated that it will have to declare effective bankruptcy this year if its soaring dedicated schools grant (DSG) blackhole is not resolved.”

They added that they had been in ‘extensive correspondence’ with the director of children’s services, Cathi Hadley.

This was ‘in an attempt to understand the evidence that the authority has provided to your department in order to justify both the transfer of funds between blocks and the decrease in the MPPFL’.

Bournemouth Echo: David Sims, who will become headteacher of Bournemouth School for Girls in August 2022

“The authority has, at best, been unhelpful, leaving us no option but to raise these issues directly with you,” the letter said.

The four headteachers asked the minister to explain the grounds on why the application was granted, how the council has shown that the application was due to affordability, while saying there was a £400k surplus.

Finally, they asked her to explain the rationale for the funding of any school to be below the MPPFL values.

They concluded: “We are sure that you would not wish your department to appear complicit with the local authority in damaging our students’ life chances in this way.”

Bournemouth Echo:

Cathi Hadley, BCP director of children’s services, said:  “We have always followed the clear guidance as set out by the Department for Education (DfE).  

“The DfE have reviewed our plan and our financial documents and have not identified any ‘mismanagement’. 

“We have listened to previous concerns about communication and engagement and have increased the regularity of meetings and the way in which we work. We have also introduced a number of recent workshops for co-production events with schools to discuss aspects of the SEND system. These are well attended.

“We remain committed to working with the DfE, teachers, parents, children and young people to deliver a solution that protects education provision for all going forward.”  

A DfE spokesperson said: “Overall we are increasing school funding to £60.7 billion next year, the highest level ever in real terms per pupil. The National Funding Formula (NFF) ensures funding is distributed fairly, based on the needs of each school and their pupils, and that every school gets higher pupil-led funding compared to the previous year.

“It is common practice for local authorities to use funding flexibilities to transfer funding from their schools block to their high needs block and we assess each request against clear criteria. This funding transfer will support Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole to address children’s needs at an earlier stage, leading to better outcomes for students and mitigating the need for more extensive support later on.”