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Avoiding deficit could prove too costly

IN 12 years as a head Dudley Whittaker has never set a deficit budget and despite a crippling increase in staffing costs he did not intend to start this year.

Balancing the books is a matter of pride for the head of Sudbury Upper in Suffolk who made sure the school was left with a nominal pound;1 in reserves for 20034.

But as his school considers charging some pupils for textbooks and field trips, Mr Whittaker is, with some of his staff, beginning to wonder whether he made the right decision.

He has had to slash his supply teachers' budget from pound;40,000 to pound;15,000 and cut funds for books and resources by more than 50 per cent.

If there are any significant staff absences this year or calls from his staff for more resources, he knows the chances are he will go into deficit anyway. That is why heads of department may now be allowed to ask sixth-form students to contribute towards the cost of books and educational trips.

"I disagree with this entirely because I feel state education should be free," said Mr Whittaker. "But in these circumstances we may have no choice."

He believes that with only a "derisory" pound;4,100 available to implement the workload agreement in September it will be "impossible" to deliver.

It represents a dramatic turnaround from the previous year when Sudbury Upper, which has a pound;3.35 million budget, had reserves of pound;260,000. Much of this was used to fund building work, but the school still had more than pound;100,000 to play with which has been completely swallowed up by this year's problems.

"It is not looking good for next year," said Sally Scott, deputy head.

"The head has been an incredibly good financial manager, but there is a feeling that if schools are managing without going into deficit, then maybe that is sending the wrong message to Government."

Mr Whittaker admits that may be the case. "Having done this with the best of intentions I am beginning to think that going into deficit might make ministers sit up and take notice."

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