Schools face tough decisions as they cope with the Government’s spending review
Published at 11:16, Saturday, 20 November 2010
On the face of it, schools were let off somewhat lightly when the Chancellor announced the economic “night of the long knives" on October 20. Appearances can, however, be deceptive.
The protection given to school budgets is a cut in real terms when inflation is taken into account.
Further and higher education is of course a different story, but for now let’s concentrate on schools and see what we can make of the immediate future.
The capital building programme remains decimated.
Only a relatively few schools will emerge unscathed, leaving a large number to soldier on in sub-standard accommodation.
But it is the revenue implications which trouble the minds of headteachers and governors the most.
The variables are vitally important.
For instance, it is by no means clear the extent to which free schools will take money away from the rest.
This policy may have had an uncertain start, but it would take a brave person to bet that it will prove to be a “damp squib”.
If heads think their schools will be better off “free” then they will go all-out to persuade their governors and staffs to make the big leap forward.
It should be remembered that one of the biggest losers from the Comprehensive Spending Review is local government. This in turn means drastic cuts in education services.
At this stage, schools will need to evaluate whether they would be better off free from what is left of the local authority bureaucracy.
The pupil premium is one of the most vaunted coalition policies and a flagship Lib Dem “tenet of faith”.
The theory is that additional cash will improve achievement in the most deprived communities. It is a theory worth testing, but if ‘social mobility’ is to become a reality, it will need much more than money to reap dividends.
Parental attitudes for starters, followed closely by high-quality teaching, are key to raising standards and they do not necessarily cost money.
What will be worrying for the majority of schools is if the pupil premium is delivered at their expense, as is rumoured. That would be a betrayal of the many schools which deliver high academic results without extra cash.
The Secretary of State has also returned to the age-old chestnut of expanding popular schools. It’s a worthy goal, but it has been visited by virtually all his predecessors since Margaret Thatcher became prime minister.
The problem with this is that other schools will get hurt in the process.
Some may say “so what?” but the Government had better think this one through or risk egg all over its face.
For instance, at a time when something approaching austerity stalks the education land, thought must be given to the capital and revenue needs of these popular establishments if they wish to expand.
They could well be the very schools which have just had their capital programmes snatched from their grasp.
The scene from the perspective of a struggling school will be just as puzzling.
One minute you are being given extra cash via the premium. Next you are told that you could be closed if the popular school down the road gets the go-ahead to recruit a chunk of your brightest and best. Joined-up thinking. I think not.
Of course heads will rise to the challenge. But perhaps they ought to console themselves with the thought that leaders in other parts of the public sector will be faced with equally, if not greater, challenges in the next few years.
Published by http://www.cumberlandnews.co.uk
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