Headteachers tackle tight budgets

HEADTEACHERS believe "the good days of education are over" as they tackle tight budgets and find themselves only able to provide a bare minimum of services.

HEADTEACHERS believe "the good days of education are over" as they tackle tight budgets and find themselves only able to provide a bare minimum of services.

This year's heightened level of Government funding is unlikely to see a repeat of last year's problems, but many of the drastic cuts made are "gone forever", heads have warned.

Union chiefs also fear the cost of bringing in the workforce reform agenda – estimated to be between £35,000 and £40,000 to schools in the next two years – will not met by the Government.

Schools are now in the final stages of preparing their budget for the 2004/05 financial year, with some job losses and cuts expected – though not as widespread as in 2003/04.

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Adrian Williams, head of Bury St Edmunds' County Upper School, said: "This year certainly looks a lot better, and the guaranteed 4% increase in funding seems to have fed its way into schools.

"That was the big thing where it went wrong last year – the Government had underestimated what the financial pressures would be."

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But Mr Williams, who was forced to make up to £50,000 of cuts last year, added: "Those cuts are now gone forever. I don't think schools will be able to reinstate the elements they cut last year.

"A colleague said to me the other that the good days were over. We saw those in the early years of the Labour government, but it's been difficult to sustain."

Peter Booley, headteacher of Southwold Primary School, said: "We may have to use a little of our reserves but it's nowhere near as grim as last year. But the shortfall from last year will not be made up from this year's settlement."

Chris Harrison, Suffolk secretary of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT), said he did not expect schools to set deficit budgets this year, due to the £3.1million transitional support grant given to the county's schools.

But he said the Government was in danger of "defaulting" on the workforce reform agenda because of a lack of funding.

He expects the three-year reform agenda, which started in September, to cost his school, Oulton Broad Primary, about £40,000 over the next two years.

"The cost of the workforce agreement is much greater than the Government anticipated. This is a very significant cost pressure on schools," he said.

"They already recognised the level of difficult so invented this thing called the transitional support grant, which has gone a long way towards supporting rural schools, but is being halved in 2005/06. There is no news beyond that.

"The cost of workforce reform is the single biggest concern amongst headteachers. It is causing a lot of angst and is a particular problem for schools, particularly primaries, in shire and rural areas. These initiatives need to be funded."

Mr Harrison said schools would be setting spending plans for the next three years including "massive" additional funding required in 2005/06. "Presumably that will be acceptable," he added.

Suffolk County Council said it would be passing on the full increase in Government spending – which comes to almost £14.7million – to schools and expected school budgets in 2004/05 to increase between 5% and 6%.

The council said 12 teachers were made redundant last year and added a similar number was expected this year.

Tony Lewis, executive committee member, said: "I know last year was particularly difficult for schools as they faced some real challenges in setting their budgets.

"However, we feel that this year's budget settlement is much better, and with extra money provided through the transition support grant we are confident that schools will be able to set balanced budgets.

"I am also pleased that we have increased overall teacher numbers in the county, despite redundancies in some areas due to falling pupil numbers."

A spokesperson for the Department of Education defended the Government's actions in managing the workforce reforms.

"We recognise that many schools will not be able to make as rapid progress as the pathfinders made," he said.

"That is why the workforce reform changes are being phased in over a three-year period. The contractual changes implemented this year have been low or no-cost."

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