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Dalton's Diary

I would not mind so much if they would just say sorry. The attitude of ministers to the dreadful plight of many schools forced to sack teachers, cut resources and raise class sizes seems to be that it is nothing to do with them. But what else would one expect from a government which created mass unemployment, and then told the victims to get on their bikes and look for work?

It is the local education authorities, John Major tells us, who mismanage their education budgets and employ two administrators for every three teachers. This statement was later "clarified" when it was explained that all non-teachers were included in these figures, not just the wasters who sit at County Hall threading paper clips. Funny, I have never thought of our dinner ladies as bureaucrats, or the man who comes to cut the grass.

A previous headteacher and chair of governors at my school produced a budget surplus at my school in the first couple of years of LMS, through a combination of thrift and fear. While recognising that this was "hoarding", bad management and proof that all schools are over-funded anyway, we bless them daily for cushioning us against the even leaner years that were to come. We have spent half our carry-forward last year, and still had Pounds 10,000 to put into the 1995-96 financial year. Even so, it is going to be a struggle.

We have taken several runs at it, approaching the problem from different angles. We are urged not to be "budget-led", but to consult the development plan. The figures generated by this method produced a projected deficit of Pounds 14,000. "Start afresh," advised our tame education officer. "Given this amount of money, this number of children and an empty school, how would you spend it?" Well, not on all these dedicated, experienced, but expensive teachers, obviously. We could trade them in for seven or eight probationers, cut class sizes and still have enough money left over to purchase the necessary ropes, hand-cuffs and leg irons.

On our current pupil numbers, we are probably spending too much on support staff as well, but we know our numbers are set to rise while our budget remains static. We will need these experienced and well-integrated classroom assistants to cope with rising class sizes. We owe our staff, teaching and support so much, it is diffficult to think of them in purely financial terms.

Back to the drawing-board. Try the "what is the minimum possible we can get by on?" approach. This balances the books and gives us a contingency fund of about Pounds 4,000. What will we do next year without a carry-forward and probably with another budget cut? Goodness knows.

Yet another glossy DFE brochure dropped through my door. "Education Means Business - Private Finance in Education". As a good socialist, I think the state should provide a decent education for all children, but my school cannot afford my principles. I scanned the brochure guiltily for lists of possible benefactors, but in vain.

The message here is that schools in full control of their budgets, especially GM schools with access to capital grants, are a market ripe for development. Private firms are encouraged to offer us management services, and build shared, profit-making facilities on our land - sports halls, conference centres, swimming pools. Not much scope for a small primary like mine whose sole "land" is a football field leased from the parish council.

Oh, well, I quite enjoy jumble sales...

Joan Dalton is a governor in the Midlands.

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