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Budget closure threat to county farm school
THE only school farm in Oxfordshire is under threat of closure after losing a third of its budget.
This year the Warriner School Farm, in Bloxham, near Banbury, received about £40,000 as a ‘farm allocation’ from central Government via Oxfordshire County Council, amounting to a third of the £120,000 turnover.
But a new funding formula, which is based on a much smaller number of criteria, takes the farm allocation out of the equation, meaning it will receive nothing from next April.
The Oxford Mail reported last week that more than half the county’s schools would be worse-off under the new formula.
Farm manager and teacher Chris Holloway said: “The farm grant heavily subsidised our educational work.
“We have a charitable trust that supports us and they are actively fundraising, both through direct activities and applying for grants, and we are looking at new educational funding streams. Ultimately the farm could close or have reduced activity.”
As well as being used by the school itself, about 4,000 to 5,000 pre-school and primary school children visit the farm each year, along with smaller numbers of Year 10 and 11 pupils on agricultural and horticultural courses from both Warriner School and other secondaries.
The rest of the farm’s income comes from trading, including selling meat through the on-site farm shop, and crops, which amounts to slightly more than a third of the amount it needs. That also includes payments all farms are entitled to from the European Union via Natural England, for environmental stewardship.
The remainder is from charges for school visits and workshops held by staff both on and off site.
Mr Holloway said if Warriner School, which the farm is part of, was forced to carry the cost itself, it might have to consider scaling back the farm to meet the school’s needs rather than the wider community.
Alternatively, it could become more commercial and less educational, with the additional income being made up from farming activities, which Mr Holloway said would be a “shame”.
He said: “It’s uncertain times for us and I don’t have any more answers other than we are doing all we can.”
Oxfordshire County Council spokesman Martin Crabtree said: “The school has been aware of concerns over continuation of this allocation and has been working towards generating income to self-fund the farm.
“Essentially all funding will be shared on the basis of pupil numbers and characteristics plus a rates allocation and a fixed lump sum for every school.”
He pointed out the school would gain £74,822 in its overall budget as a result of the changes.
Banbury MP Tony Baldry has been drawn into the issue after a parent, Perran Moon, called on him to donate extra income the MP would receive from next year’s tax reduction for top earners.
But in his blog, Sir Tony said the school would receive extra money under the new formula.
He suggested Mr Moon was making a political point rather than wanting him to investigate the issue.