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pound;700,000 reserve cushions the blow

BRUCE Douglas, principal of Branston community college, Branston, Lincolnshire, knows that with pound;700,000 in the bank, his school is in a better position than most to deal with the cash crisis.

But increased costs, and lower than expected funding for 20034, means he will have to use at least pound;125,000 from his reserves this year simply to balance the books.

He said: "Our reserves are intended for investing in extra resources. They were never supposed to be used as a stop-gap, but that is what we are being forced to do this year. Whereas other schools are making five or six staff redundant... we are taking money out of the bank."

Mr Douglas had been hoping for a 12 per cent increase in the school's pound;3 million budget to achieve standstill. This would cover extra costs including pound;200,000 in pay, pension and NI increases and a pound;60,000 drop in standards funds.

However, the 1,100-pupil school received an increase of just 8 per cent. He said: "We are a lean, mean financial machine, but the fact that we are using our savings to prop up a system in crisis is very worrying. I am genuinely worried about the long-term future, because we can't raid our reserves in this way every year."

Mr Douglas said: "People are getting confused because the Government is saying it is giving us extra money.

"Heads are thinking: 'If these are the good years, the fat years, then how on earth are we going to survive in the lean years?'

"The Government is not lying, but a lot of the increased funding is going into special projects, such as refurbishing old buildings and behaviour management.

"So ministers can correctly claim to be putting more into the global budget, but heads at many, ordinary schools are getting less in real terms."

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