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Minister's statement about Parents for Choice meeting

21 October 2010

Statement from Deputy James Reed, Minister for Education, Sport and Culture.

“I have been invited to attend a meeting organised by Parents for Choice. I have declined to attend because discussions have only just begun with the governing bodies of the fee-paying schools about how best to handle any changes in States funding.

Until further work has been undertaken and I have reached agreement with the schools’ governing bodies over the best way forward, it would be wrong of me to provoke further speculation by attending a public meeting where I would not be able to answer questions fully as each school may take a different approach. I hope to conclude these initial discussions as soon as possible and then I will be able to answer some of the parents’ questions.

"I do want to engage with parents, however each fee-paying school determines its own operating structures, costs and fees, and therefore the parents of children at each school are likely to be affected differently depending on the circumstances of the school. I therefore believe that the most sensible approach is to meet parents at each school once I have concluded discussions with the governors.

"I am very concerned that parents of children at these schools are worried about the effects that any reduction in States funding will have on their children. I am therefore issuing this statement in order to reassure them.

"Let me assure all parents that I value the contribution fee-paying schools make to our education system. It is a unique system of which we can rightly be proud. It offers parents the choice of a States-provided private or faith education for their children and it delivers outstanding results. Parental choice is something I am determined to protect.

"I am also determined to ensure that all pupils currently in fee-paying education should be able to continue to attend those schools and I will work with schools to ensure that no-one should be deprived of their place through hardship. If this means creating a bursary or hardship fund or making other changes then parents have my commitment that I will do so in partnership with the schools concerned.

"I know that every Islander is aware of the effects of the global recession. As an Island we are better placed than most of Europe. But we are not immune; we all know that businesses are finding it difficult, some have failed and unemployment has risen higher than any of us are willing to accept in the longer term.

"The States is investing £156 million - a very significant sum - to offset the worst effects of the recession, by keeping people in work or providing training. However, looking forward, the States faces an annual deficit of £100 million unless action is taken to close that gap. Tomorrow, the Treasury Minister will be announcing his budget proposals. However, it is public knowledge that the Council of Ministers, in response to States demands, intends to make savings of £65 million by 2013.

"As part of the Comprehensive Spending Review the Council of Ministers has agreed that the Education, Sport and Culture Department should seek to deliver a £11.2 million reduction in budget over the period 2011-2013. I therefore have to look at how best I can use the funds available to me to meet the needs of all parents and pupils.

"All aspects of the department’s budget have been subject to rigorous external review. From that, potential savings have been identified in a number of areas, including fee-paying and non fee-paying education. In both areas, more detailed work and consultation with key stakeholders will need to be undertaken before final proposals are determined. I am aware that there has been speculation about spare spaces at States-funded schools. I am addressing those issues separately. They have no bearing on the funding for fee-paying schools.

"Plans to achieve all of these savings are being developed, but I do need to make some relatively small savings in next year’s funding for fee-paying schools. Therefore, I have been meeting with governing bodies to understand the implications and consider how best to handle them. I have challenged both governors and headteachers to find ways to minimise any fee increases and absorb the proposed saving by reducing costs and seeking opportunities to work more closely with other schools.

"Let me be absolutely clear - no final decisions have been taken about funding fee-paying schools from September 2011 or in subsequent years.

"I know that the governors of the fee-paying schools and I share the same objective, which is to make the best use of the resources available to provide the best education for pupils in our schools. I believe that we will work together constructively to achieve this and share a common commitment to protect the interests of all existing pupils and parents.

"I hope to be able to make further announcements in the next few days about how we will achieve this. However, until we have agreed it would be unfair of me to say anything else. That is why I have declined the opportunity to attend the meeting.

"I hope that my unequivocal commitment to supporting individual pupils where necessary will allay any unfounded concerns that any parent may have.”

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