Fresh hope for education body

THE body dedicated to raising education standards here in 1066 Country may not close after all with the decision to reallocate its funding set to be reviewed.

The Observer reported last month that the Hastings and St Leonards Excellence Cluster faced an uncertain future after the East Sussex Schools Forum decided Government funding which bankrolled the project should be redistributed between every school in the county.

The announcement was met with dismay by local politicians who said the cluster had played a big part in the recent upturn in local exam results.

East Sussex County Council (ESCC) said its hands were tied but the issue will go back to the forum’s next meeting in June, giving local councillors fresh hope the cluster might survive.

Having written to the Department of Education, Cllr Trevor Webb told Tuesday’s ESCC meeting: “The information that came down from the department is quite clear – the forum has limited powers and the decision is with the county council.”

He called on the Conservative cabinet to commit to speaking at the June meeting in favour of the £1.3 million staying in Hastings.

But Cllr David Elkin said: “I believe the decision made originally was a reasonable one. I feel we cannot interfere.”

More than 300 people have joined a Facebook campaign to keep the Excellence Cluster going.

Meanwhile at the same meeting, ESCC leader Cllr Peter Jones said the authority faced “a quite unprecedented” period over the coming years.

“This council will almost certainly look very different in two years’ time.

“Some of the things we do now we won’t be doing at all - we may have outsourced them, we may be sharing them, we may be doing things in different ways.

“I think it is a very exciting period.”

He vowed that regenerating coastal communities like Hastings remained a “key theme” of the council’s strategy, and said the new Localism Bill being drawn up would provide councils with “great opportunities”.

But Cllr Jeremy Birch was less enthusiastic, warning councils could be “bypassed” if too many services could end up in the hands of unaccountable bodies, particularly private companies.

“We are elected, we are accountable, we have to stand up in the face of the public and answer for what we have done,” he said.