SCHOOL CROSSING patrols in Oldham will soon be funded directly by schools rather than by the council.
For parents and carers there could have been a simple ‘paper exercise’ here whereby one public body pays instead of another – it’s all taxpayers’ money after all.
Unfortunately it has become the subject of media attention with some rather misleading and emotive stories. And why not, I suppose? It sells papers and there isn’t the room to get bogged down in the detail…
One local paper had led with the headline ‘Lollipop axe is crossing’ at least five months before schools across the Borough had decided whether or not to support the funding of their crossing patrols – and, to be fair, they weren’t alone in doing so.
The issue here isn’t just the £160 million in savings we’ve had to make from the council budget which has affected how we use the money coming into Oldham.
Under existing funding arrangements we received all school money and then allocated it out to schools, holding some centrally for services to be delivered across the ‘family of schools’.
The new funding arrangements for 2013/4 ensure that the maximum amount of money is passed on to schools as each Local Authority sees fit. Schools are responsible for buying in extra services or – in the case of some schools – joint funding projects and staff posts, or even establishing their own traded services.
School crossing patrols was a service that Oldham Council couldn’t afford to fund itself, but we wanted to see if there was another way to finance them.
The benefit to the public would be that instead of simply scrapping the patrols we would have found a way to protect a service that people value by working cooperatively with the wider community.
Thankfully the vast majority of schools recognised that funding cuts to local councils were beginning to bite – and also that they had a responsibility to support parents too.
To those schools I want to put on record my appreciation. As with all these things those who do their bit are often forgotten in the hype.
Interestingly some schools which do not currently have school crossing patrols also decided to ‘buy in’ the service.
The facts are these;
- 22 of the 37 schools approached did agree to fund school crossing patrols;
- Seven new patrols will be funded by schools who do not currently have a patrol;
- 15 school crossing patrols have not been funded by schools and will cease.
As a council we were also keen to ensure we did our bit.
Not only did we agree to coordinate these crossing patrols on behalf of schools, but we are also upping our enforcement action where parents, or the school itself, have reported problems with motorists.
Too many drivers think that getting as close to the school gate as possible is far more important than the safety of all other children.
As a parent I see drivers and delivery vehicles on the school zig zags every week (yes I do report it), and that’s why we’ve invested in school safety vehicles to record evidence of those breaking the law and take action.
Of those schools who decided not to have crossing patrols – and, clearly, they have the right to do so – some chose to write to parents outlining their reasons. Whilst I’m not going to pass individual judgement on this, I will put the record straight on two matters…
Some schools have claimed they cannot afford the cost because of cuts. I’m afraid that doesn’t hold water.
During the period from 2009/10 to 2013/4, Oldham Council’s budget has seen savings of around £160 million made while schools budgets as a whole have not had cuts.
It’s true to say that schools have financial pressures in the same way other organisations do – some have seen the impact of reducing pupil numbers, for example – but headline cuts to budgets for their sector as a whole is not one of them.
It is also true that schools collectively held about £11.5 million in unspent balances at the last year end, so there is money available.
Some have refused to accept the principle here by putting the onus back onto Oldham Council, but in doing so they miss the point.
It is not the Local Authority who has requested school crossing patrols – it is parents. By refusing to contribute here schools haven’t failed to support the council, but perhaps they have failed others.
It is a shame to me that what appeared to be a logical solution has since ended up becoming such a bone of contention.
Unfortunately this is also not likely to be last time that the council gets the blame for Government cuts.
But, surely, in the face of huge cuts to the public sector everyone – including schools – has to play their part in ensuring the effect on our communities is minimised?
Thanks for listening,