UPDATED 10th JULY 2019
The Closure of Stratton’s Farm
People have been contacting us with their concerns over the closure of the School Farm and we very much appreciate their interest. Stratton Education Trust feels, however, that there is no option other than to implement this difficult decision.
The following gives some more background information to some of the more common questions that we have received.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is there a problem with funding the Farm?
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Government spending per pupil has fallen by 8% in real terms between 2010 and 2018 and has fallen further this past year.
In real terms, spending per pupil in the Sixth Form has fallen by 20% over the same period, which has a significant impact on us as we are an Upper School and a bigger percentage of our students are Post 16.
In addition, schools used to receive a grant for the upkeep of their buildings and grounds. This grant was important to Stratton given our large campus and the Farm. The grant was withdrawn several years ago.
The School does not get additional revenue funding to run the Farm, and the School currently spends upwards of £100,000 a year to operate it.
Why are the cuts being made to the Farm?
Whilst the Farm holds a special place in the affections of everyone connected with the School, after nearly ten years of continuous funding cuts, the School had to make the decision, however difficult, to prioritise its spending on the education of all its students.
As we do not receive additional funding for the Farm, any money spent on it is money not spent elsewhere for our students. Whilst it is enjoyed by a minority of students, continuing to operate it would have an adverse effect on the majority of our students.
In the current academic year, only 43 students in Years 10 and 11 are studying agriculture, out of a total of 510 students. Of those 43, only half will take a GCSE equivalent examination.
The per-head cost of providing the Agriculture qualification is 47% of the per-head Age Weighted Pupil Unit. This leaves 53% of that student’s per-head funding to cover their remaining 8 GCSE’s.
Like all Schools, we have limited and, in real terms, diminishing funds to spend on our students’ education and, in the end, a difficult decision had to be made.
Doesn’t income from farm sales cover the cost of running the farm?
Unfortunately not. Even if the cost of funding the Farm from the School budget were excluded, the Farm as a business makes a loss each year because Farm sales have been steadily declining over the last few years. The School also has to cover these losses in addition to the funding required to run it.
How was the farm allowed to get into a state of such disrepair?
The School has experienced significant funding cuts over the past few years, and a cut in grants. Continuing to try and fund many projects simultaneously has taken its toll not just on the farm but on other areas of the school, to the extent that we were faced with the tough decision to close the farm.
Can’t you get help from partner organisations?
Given the scale of the costs of operating the Farm, there is not alternative funding available for us to seek from partner organisations. In fact, one partner is having to withdraw from use of the Farm due to their own funding situation.
Why don’t you want the Farm?
The issue is not our desire to operate the Farm but the funding cuts that have made it impossible for us to continue to do so.
The amount of capital investment needed seems huge. Where did this figure come from?
The capital requirement schedule is largely derived from an independent Condition Survey commissioned by Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust as part of their ongoing due diligence. They have given us permission to disclose their findings, which constitute 75% of the costs shown. The schedule covers the next five years and whilst there is not an immediate need for a spend of £499,994 we are required to ensure that the entire plan is achievable or there is no point in commencing. It would be irresponsible to approach this exercise in a piecemeal fashion and we would need to secure the entire £499,994 before the project could be considered viable. Funding the immediate £197k requirement, even if funds were available, cannot therefore be demonstrated to the ESFA as being value for money.
Why aren’t you applying for capital grants?
The School does apply for available capital grants and has been fairly successful over the years. We have recently been awarded £500,000 to repair the roofs on the oldest part of the School where there have been leaks in two places. The request for a further £350,000 to replace some windows has not been successful. The windows are steel-framed ones from when the School opened in 1950 and are at the end of their lives as well as being thermally very inefficient. These repairs to the main School building have to take precedence.
What will happen to the Farm/land?
No decisions have been made yet. The School does not own the land – it belongs to Central Bedfordshire Council and Stratton has a 100-year lease with the Council which expires in 2112.
Is the decision reversible to retain the Farm as a community and educational resource?
There would have to be a large capital investment, as above. In addition, the Farm would need at least a further £50,000 a year revenue to run as a community farm, open at weekends for the general public.
Is this decision related to the most recent Ofsted rating of the school?
Indirectly, yes. We have been working hard to improve many areas of the school including the overall education standards of all our students, and that work also included a thorough review of our finances to ensure that our budgets were being optimised. This decision was ultimately taken as part of the review process aimed at bringing the school’s educational standards back to where we would all like them to be for all our students.
What about the less academic students?
Students only join us in Year 9 and we aim to give them experience of a full range of subjects before they choose their GCSE options. However, this has meant that we have only given 2 hours per week to Science, which is not really enough in Year 9. We move to a fortnightly timetable from September and students will now have a more appropriate time allocation of 6 hours per fortnight.
Stratton will continue to offer other popular vocational options at Key Stage 4, such as Construction and Child Development.
How is the school responding to FOI requests?
Over the past few weeks the school has received a number of freedom of information requests from various members of the ‘Save Stratton School Farm Community Group’. These include requests for information going back 5 years to 2014. To date the school has spent in excess of £1,200 or 49 hours of officer time responding to requests from the community group. A significant amount of this time has been spent on:
· determining whether the information is held – over 16 hours
· extracting the information from a document containing it – over 33 Hours
Schools also have a duty to provide assistance and advice under section 16 of the Freedom of Information Act only in so far as it would be reasonable to expect the authority to do so.
The Act recognises that requests for information are not the only demand on the resources of a public authority (school) and that they should not be allowed to cause a drain on time, energy and finances to the extent that they negatively affect normal school functions. A school is not required to communicate information to any person requesting it if it “estimates that the cost of complying with the request would exceed the appropriate limit.” Currently, the cost limit for complying with a request or a linked series of requests from the same person or group is set at £450 or 18 hours.
The regulations require schools to consider each case on its own facts but requests that are ‘likely to relate to the same or similar information where, for example, the requestor has expressly linked the requests, or where there is an overarching theme or common thread running between the requests in terms of the nature of the information that has been requested’ schools can refuse them under section 12 of the Act. This exemption also applies when the costs ‘of all related requests received within 60 working days from the same person or from people who seem to be working together exceeds’ the statutory limit.