Schools face cuts after council blunder

SCHOOLS in Essex face fresh cuts after education chiefs asked them to give back £3.6 million following a mistake in their budget calculations.Secondary schools have got to cut their budgets by about £25,000, while primary headteachers have got to reduce their spending plans by up to £6,000.

By Juliette Maxam

SCHOOLS in Essex face fresh cuts after education chiefs asked them to give back £3.6 million following a mistake in their budget calculations.

Secondary schools have got to cut their budgets by about £25,000, while primary headteachers have got to reduce their spending plans by up to £6,000.

The error occurred when the number of children in voluntary, independent and private nursery education due to start school in 2006/07 was “overstated” by 0.6%, which led to an extra £3.6 million being added to the education budget.

Essex County Council education bosses have “apologised unreservedly” to schools for the mistake and promised it will not happen again.

The mistaken £3.6 million was included in budget allocations dished out to schools in March for 2006/07.

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Schools drew up their spending plans for the current year, which were then ratified by governing bodies.

Now schools will have to go through the whole process again and try to shave off the money the council wants back - or else go into the red.

Essex Primary Heads Association (EPHA) executive chair Ruth Brock said: “£5,000 is the equivalent of a learning support assistant or we'll have to set a deficit budget.”

She said EPHA and the Association of Secondary Heads in Essex (ASHE) told the county council they wanted to pay back the money next year so that they could plan for it.

Mrs Brock said: “Neither EPHA nor ASHE wished for the current solution, however, it was considered more beneficial by Carey Bennet (Essex head of schools service) and Stephen Castle (cabinet member for education) to rectify the position sooner rather than later; despite budgets having been largely set and ratified by school governing bodies, many of whom had very little or any flexibility to deal with it well.”

She added: “There has been a huge outcry. I think heads will be saying: 'We cannot go through this process again.' Some feel they're being forced to make cuts. Certainly it's a poor situation.”

Richard Thomas, chairman of ASHE, said: “Everyone accepts it's regrettable the mistake was made. It has been made. They (the county council) have been honest.

“There's only two avenues they can take (get the money back this year or next year). There's a difference of opinion amongst heads as to the avenue they have taken.

“Whatever way it's done, it becomes a problem for schools in terms of reallocation of resources. Some schools might find themselves in difficulties.”

Mr Castle said the county council has asked schools to recalculate their budgets based on the reduced allocations.

“The council has apologised unreservedly to schools for the problems this recalculation may cause.

“We understand that most schools will already have agreed their budgets, and that this change may therefore put them under some pressure.

“However, it is important that the error is corrected swiftly so that there are no knock-on effects for their future budgetary arrangements.”

He added: “As well as apologising to governing bodies, we are happy to give an assurance that all steps will be taken to ensure this situation does not arise in future.”

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