Friday, 10 July 2009

Representing members in rural schools

A wide-ranging discussion at the Shropshire Division meeting in Shrewsbury tonight focussed on the funding pressures on rural Authorities.

I was invited to give my views as Vice-Presidential candidate – and afterwards received Shropshire’s nomination. Above all, it gave us all an opportunity to compare the issues that were common to all teachers, whether from Lewisham, Shropshire or elsewhere, as well as the particular pressures facing rural schools.

Concerns about workload, threats to pensions, support from Regional Offices, the loss of work facing supply teachers and the pressures of ‘APP’ were to the fore, as they would be in many Divisions. But concerns about how the threat of funding cuts would hit already cash-strapped rural authorities were the main subject of debate.

As I pointed out, the latest White Paper refers to the ongoing discussions about the ‘formula review’ which the DCSF are conducting to decide how funding should be distributed amongst different authorities with different levels of need.

Shropshire members pointed to the difficulties that didn’t seem to be recognised in the present funding arrangements such as the high cost of school transport in rural areas and lack of adequate internet access, as well as the conflicting pressures between protecting small village schools and adequately funding larger urban schools within a poorly-funded Authority.

We discussed how funding had to be needs-led – making sure all schools were adequately funded to meet the needs of their students – instead of just having schools and Authorities argue about how best to carve up an inadequate overall budget cake. But with the ‘cake’ threatened by government cutbacks, we all recognised that a national battle to defend education funding would have to be fought, linking up with parents and local communities too.

But the Union needs to recognise the particular pressures on rural areas, which are not often discussed at Conferences which can sometimes be dominated by larger metropolitan areas. The White Paper’s solution to protect rural schools by looking at ‘shared posts’ and federations to provide ‘value for money’ could add to the pressures on staff. I agreed to pursue the suggestion of a national meeting aimed at bringing rural associations together to discuss specific concerns such as funding, school closures and union organisation.

I hope Shropshire’s nomination will help towards getting me elected as a National Officer where I would seek to help convene just such a meeting.


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