School governors release reasons for defederation refusal decision

West Burton primary school is one of three in the BAWB federation.

Governors of three Dales schools have released their reasons for refusing to allow one of the schools to leave their federation.

The board of Bainbridge, Askrigg and West Burton (BAWB) said it made the decision for financial and education reasons.

The board said it believed that keeping all schools within the federation was the best option for the pupils, the schools and the community.

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The West Burton community started to push for defederation after the governing board decided in May to remodel the federation in order to address the challenges they face around lower pupil numbers and finances.

Governors believe that their agreed option – which followed two separate consultations and which involves nursery, reception and key stage 1 classes on the Bainbridge site with key stage 2 classes divided between Askrigg and West Burton – provided the best educational and financial advantages.

However, as many respondents from West Burton were unhappy with this decision, governors also agreed to explore the possibility of West Burton’s defederation.

But the governors decided against allowing the defederation at a meeting on July 11.

The reasons for the decision were released to parents today and sent by the board to Richmondshire Today.

The board said the decision was made for a number of reasons.

Members said they looked at Ofsted reports from 2013 and 2018, and another report from 2017, as well as evidence from an educational consultant and teaching staff.

The board said there was overwhelming evidence that West Burton School had benefited from the federation and that the provisional shadow board (PS board), set up by the West Burton community to take on the running of the school if defederation was allowed, did not raise any concerns about the current standard of education provided at the school.

Talking about discussions with the PS board about how they would run the school, the BAWB board said: “There was some confusion concerning teacher cover for supply and there were a number of assertions made by members of the PS board for which there was little or no actual evidence presented.”

In making its decision, the board said it considered costed options provided by North Yorkshire County Council, budget projections for the next three years done by the school business manager with local authority support, and the budget plans of the PS board.

The board said: “The budget presented by the PS board contained a number of economies, which officers of the local authority advised the board might not be fully realisable.

“Even with these economies in place the financial forecast for West Burton School is that it would remain in a deficit position, with no recovery plan or risk assessment in place.

“Although the PS Board stated they would undertake an audit and have a recovery plan in place, as required by the local authority, the BAWB board could only base its decision on the evidence and figures presented to it before July 11.”

It added: “The local authority, as well as the diocese, did not feel that the PS board’s suggestions for increasing core funding were sufficiently robust or secure to underwrite any shortfalls in the funding.”

Governors said the PS board made submissions that pupil numbers could be grown to improve the financial position.

However, the BAWB board concluded: “These comments were largely based on untested and in some cases, untestable, assertions, for example, future house building plans.

“However, West Burton school could accommodate more pupils whether or not it was defederated.

“Further, the BAWB Board was not convinced that more children would come to a defederated school, rather than to the existing federated school which is widely acknowledged to provide an excellent education.”

The board said that on June 19, county council officers advised that they would not be able to support a stand-alone West Burton School on financial grounds.

However, at the BAWB board meeting on July 11, the same officers from the local authority appeared to support a stand-alone West Burton School.

The BAWB board said they gave no reasons or evidence for this change of opinion even when asked directly.

The board said “the lack of any backing for their apparent change of heart” by the officers was a concern.

The board added: “That evening the BAWB board based its decision on all the evidence presented to it.

“The BAWB board was not persuaded that the PS board’s financial planning would lead to a sustainable West Burton School.”

The governors said there would also be a financial impact on Askrigg and Bainbridge schools if West Burton defederated.

These schools would continue to show an in year deficit until 2022/23 and by then the accrued deficit would be larger and the payback time was greater than if the three schools stayed together, the board said.

The BAWB board said it also considered that the high thresholds in place for safeguarding were not adequately addressed in the PS board’s submission.

It concluded: “The BAWB board took the view that the greatest financial security and future sustainability for all three schools can only be achieved if all three stayed together.

“Defederation could not be supported on financial and safeguarding grounds.”

Finally, the governors said they recognised the strength of community feeling about all three schools.

The board added: “The strength of feeling has been so strong, that some West Burton parents have threatened to remove their child / children from West Burton School if BAWB governors proceeded with implementing Option 3a, and also if defederation was denied.

“In doing so, they must be aware that this would destabilise the situation for all three school and could ultimately precipitate closure of West Burton School.

“If pupil numbers were to increase in the future, as some have suggested, then a federated West Burton school would still exist to take full advantage of this increase. If appropriate, the organisational changes brought about by implementing Option 3 a could be altered or reversed.”

The board said that the key threat to the survival of West Burton school was not remaining federated and that the continuing pupil decline, which started pre-federation.

“If some parents, as threatened, remove their children from the school, this will make closure more likely,” it added.

The board concluded: “The BAWB board therefore, on the basis of educational and financial evidence, remain convinced that continuing the present federation is the best option for pupils, schools and the community.

“Whilst acknowledging the strength of community views and taking them very seriously, they do not outweigh the other considerations.

“The BAWB board would be prepared to work with the former PS board members, as with any other parents, to find the best outcomes for all three BAWB schools as soon as is practicable.”

To read the reasons in full, click here.