Schools run by stricken Northamptonshire County Council have been dealt another blow with the news that a potential Department for Education-funded rescue package has disappeared.
The financially crippled authority – which held crisis talks this week – has already seen an 88 per cent fall in the number of school improvement officers it employs between 2011-2017, according to figures obtained by Tes.
Schools in the county had hoped to compensate for the virtual disappearance of this support by using grants from the DfE’s Strategic School Improvement Fund (SSIF) to pay for replacement services.
Tes has learned that several bids were made by Northamptonshire schools and academy trusts for that purpose. But a list of the last round of SSIF funding released yesterday shows that none were successful.
Worse still, the government has now closed the SSIF to future bids.
Tom Rees, education director at Northampton Primary Academy Trust, said that his trust's "substantial" bid for SSIF money had failed.
“Obviously the news that Northamptonshire will be receiving no funding through SSIF round 3 is disappointing for schools in the county,” he told Tes. “Many in Northants were hopeful that significant school improvement work would be supported through this round of funding.
“This news comes at a time of significant challenge for Northamptonshire schools with services facing further cuts of an unprecedented scale and with such uncertainty around the future of our local authority.”
The SSIF closure announcement came as Northamptonshire County Council, which has imposed emergency spending controls, was due to hold emergency talks on which areas of its budget would become priorities.
The authority needs to find up to £70 million of savings in the current financial year and met yesterday to discuss spending priorities – which will used to assess spending and identify savings over the next two weeks.
But a Tes investigation into school improvement services earlier this year found that support for schools in the county has already been cut to the bone. The number of school improvement officers fell by 88 per cent from 25 in March 2011 to three by March 2017.
Those three officers were supposed to be supporting 154 maintained schools that did not have academy status and so relied on local authority back-up.
Mr Rees said: “Northamptonshire schools, who are already among the lowest funded in England as a result of the inequalities of the National Funding Formula, now face further pressure due to reductions in areas such as SEN funding and diminishing services for children and young people.
“Teachers and school leaders in Northants are the most dedicated and hardworking people I know but this climate makes their job of improving schools much more difficult."
He said that his trust's SSIF bid would have been for work with schools outside its own multi-academy trust and included areas such as reading and maths at key stage 2.
There is no clarity yet on how schools could be further affected by the crisis in Northamptonshire. But the authority has been under pressure to improve.
An Ofsted letter in 2016 warned that the quality of education in Northamptonshire was not good enough, with primary children performing “particularly poorly” in maths and the Spag tests at key stage 2.