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Funding cuts could mean councils fail in legal duties to schools, bosses warn

Funding cuts and rule changes will make it difficult for councils to meet their legal duty to provide support to schools such as criminal records checks and building upkeep, town hall bosses have warned.

From this September, local authorities will be required by law to provide a number of services to schools, but a £600 million grant to help them do so is being reduced, according to the Local Government Association (LGA).

These services include managing asbestos in schools, carrying out checks on staff, mental health support, fire safety and maintenance of school buildings and playing fields.

Instead, in future, councils in England will have to go to schools and ask to retain funding in order to provide these services, the LGA said.

This applies only to schools under local authority control, not academies or free schools.

The LGA, which represents more than 350 councils in England and Wales, said it was concerned that pupils would be put at risk as schools were forced to decide which services they were able to afford to maintain.

Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the LGA's children and young people board, said: "Councils have their hands tied.

"They are legally obliged to provide these services but will have no money to do so unless the school is prepared to pay for it from its own pocket.

"Councils are committed to ensuring all children get access to high quality education and that they can do so in a safe and healthy environment.

"Changes to regulation and school funding mean that councils could fail to meet their legal duties which protect children and teachers whilst at school.

"Services that were previously provided to schools by councils will become an extra burden for schools, putting additional pressure on already overstretched budgets.

"If councils are to continue to provide these vital services, the £600 million proposed cut to the Education Services Grant needs to be reversed."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "The Government has protected the core schools budget in real terms since 2010, with school funding at its highest level on record at more than £40bn in 2016-17 - and that is set to rise, as pupil numbers rise, over the next two years to £42bn by 2019-20.

"Funding arrangements are in place to ensure that local authorities can carry out their statutory duties on behalf of maintained schools, and it is misleading to claim otherwise. We have introduced a new transitional grant worth £125m in 2017-18.

"We have also amended regulations so that local authorities can use other sources of funding to pay for education services once the ESG (education services grant) is removed from September 2017. This will allow local authorities to retain some of their maintained schools' Dedicated Schools Grant so that they can continue to deliver the statutory duties that they carry out on behalf of maintained schools."

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