Cash-strapped schools can get their finances on track without making staff redundant, according to a South Wales head who has halved his budget deficit in a year.
Cutting supply staff, who cost almost pound;1,000 a week each, is key to getting schools out of debt, said David Swallow, head of Barry Comprehensive.
The school, in the Vale of Glamorgan, had one of the highest budget deficits of any in Wales last year, sitting pound;112,000 in the red.
But Mr Swallow has cut the debt by more than half in the space of a year and hopes to wipe out the deficit completely without making any redundancies and having kept class sizes below 30.
According to recent reports, about 200 schools across Wales are heavily in debt to the tune of about pound;10 million, and with warnings of huge public- sector spending cuts on the way, the prospect for improvement looks bleak.
"Staff cover costs are considerable," Mr Swallow said. "It costs us just less than pound;1,000 a week for each supply teacher, including supplementary costs.
"We are very fortunate that we have had high attendance from our very committed staff. But we keep a group of cover supervisors within the school just in case, and so far we've not had to pay out for external staff cover this year at all.
"Immediately, by starting to do that, you can see how we are cutting our budget deficit. Other schools can easily make savings from introducing similar measures."
The six internal cover supervisors provide in-class teaching support when not needed for cover duties.
Mr Swallow and his senior leadership team also closely monitor the number of teachers leaving the school for training and development purposes to make sure too many are not off at the same time.
"So far, we've had no issues with the workload agreement and we've fully implemented rarely cover," he added.
The school has also saved more than pound;30,000 by investing pound;16,000 in cavity wall insulation for all its buildings and closely monitoring the use of its heating system.
Mr Swallow said the Vale of Glamorgan's financial position was partly to blame for his school's poor budget situation.
The council's settlement to its schools is one of the lowest in Wales and, in turn, it receives a below-average settlement from Cardiff Bay.
Although Barry Comprehensive's budget deficit now stands at pound;40,000, and Mr Swallow is confident of breaking even next April, he is worried about the future.
"With the way things are going nationally, I'm very concerned for the 201112 budget," he said. "I fear this situation could happen all over again."
Before taking over at the 1,400-pupil school 12 years ago, Mr Swallow was headteacher at a school in Manchester.
He said the difference in per-pupil funding between the two countries is a "significant" reason why schools such as his are in financial difficulty.
"The bottom line is that Wales has to increase per-pupil funding, because that's the money that comes down to schools and that makes all the difference," he added.
Behind the Vale.
The Vale of Glamorgan has traditionally had one of the lowest funding settlements from the Assembly government of all the Welsh local authorities.
Although the council received an above-average 2.4 per cent rise this year, its total financial settlement still works out at just pound;1,221 per capita, way below the Welsh average of pound;1,353.
The knock-on effect can be seen clearly in the council's education budget, where for the past two years it has been the lowest-spending authority per pupil in Wales.
In 200910, the average pupil expenditure in the Vale of Glamorgan was pound;4,682, more than pound;1,500 less than the highest-spending authority, Ceredigion, where the figure was pound;6,206.
Original paper headline: Cut supply staff use not jobs to get schools out of debt, says head