Banbury's High Steward wades into row over inadequate funding for 'outstanding' Frank Wise School

High Steward of Banbury, Sir Tony Baldry has berated county council chiefs for failing to provide adequate funding for Banbury's 'outstanding' special school.

Simon Knight, joint head of Frank Wise School, Banbury
Simon Knight, joint head of Frank Wise School, Banbury

Sir Tony, former Banbury MP, has sent a blistering letter to Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) complaining that though it has received an increase of £12 million so far, with a further additional £9 million allocated for next year for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), it has given the county’s 12 special schools only a tiny fraction of that amount.

Now schools such as Frank Wise, in Broughton Road, Banbury face being unable to set budgets for the coming year.

Frank Wise caters for children with highly complex needs with a range of physical and learning disabilities. It has been rated outstanding by Ofsted for 14 years running.

Sir Tony Baldry, High Steward of Banbury and former MP of the constituency

It is one of the most respected special schools in the country and its staff have even been providing tuition and support to other schools in a bid to raise desperately needed funds.

Sir Tony's wife, Pippa, is a governor and a member of the School’s Resources Committee and he has described the critical financial situation the school now finds itself in.

He said the Government gave an funding increase of 17 per cent for 'high needs' between 2018/19 - 2020/21 and the 2021/22 rise will bring that to 26 per cent. But special schools have received only 2.3 per cent. He has demanded to know where the money has gone.

"Oxfordshire Special Schools are receiving a per pupil funding settlement of £18,500, against a national average of £23,000 per pupil," he said in a letter to OCC leader Ian Hudspeth.

"They have simply been told to be patient and matters will be addressed in the near future. This is an issue that needs to be addressed now.

"There doesn’t seem to be any proper recognition that special schools are being asked to look after ever-increasing numbers of complex needs children with fewer resources."

"The schools have worked hard to raise concerns about funding but despite warm words, we have seen no action." he said.

Simon Knight, joint head of Frank Wise, said: "We have always worked hard to ensure the children get the very best education possible, something reflected in the multiple Outstanding OfSTED grades we have received.

"However, that high quality of education is at risk because we are being pushed to the financial brink by the local authority's inaction. It is time Special Schools like Frank Wise stop paying the price of Oxfordshire Council Council’s failure to act.”

It is understood that Oxfordshire has been underfunded by central government for many years and heads believe the county should be given priority for extra funds.

Sir Tony said that with medical advances, Frank Wise is looking after children who have far greater needs than those of 40 years ago and costs cannot be cut by axing staff. He said there was 'disproportionate' spending on out-of-county school places and with some children having day education costing over £100,000 a year.

"Oxfordshire is ending up with the worst of all worlds. By driving up out-of-county commissioning it results in insufficient capacity (in Oxfordshire) resulting in more children being sent out-of-county at greater cost."

In a reply Mr Hudspeth said: "It is accurate to say the overall funding for the school community has increased for high needs. What you have failed to acknowledge is an increase in demand with costs of supporting children with Education and Health Care Plans rising by £2.5m and funding for post-16 by £2.5m.

"Out of county placements demand had resulted in an additional £7m of pressures, much as result of tribunal decisions. Whilst we welcome the additional funds with the increase in pressures there is still a funding shortfall. The allocation of High Needs (Special School) funding is undertaken jointly with schools via Schools Forum. Officers have identified funds to increase Special School top up payments and are working with Heads to determine the process and governance route for distribution."