Pursed lips at bursar boost

Headteachers fear they could lose control of schools' finances, reports Anat Arkin

The Government's drive to encourage schools to appoint bursars has run into opposition.

Headteachers fear that a new job description for bursars threatens to undermine their own role. The job description, which the Department for Education and Skills plans to publish in September as guidance, is made up of modules that schools can use to fit their individual needs. But it is understood to include proposals to give bursars responsibility for strategic financial planning, assessing staff salaries and other areas within a headteacher's remit.

According to Erik Fisk, a member of the National Association of Head Teachers' council, it is for heads, rather than Government officials, to decide what role bursars should play in their schools - or whether to appoint them at all.

"If a school does go for a bursar, decisions need to be made about the boundaries between the role of bursar and that of headteacher, because at present there is an overlap between some of the suggested responsibilities of a bursar and the statutory responsibilities of a headteacher," said Mr Fisk, deputy head of Tanfield comprehensive school in Stanley, County Durham.

Alan Stockley, another NAHT council member, had tabled a motion for the recent NAHT conference calling on the Government to clarify the role of bursars. This was dropped in favour of a motion that proposed a career and professional development structure for all support staff but noted that transferring work to them "inappropriately" was not the way to cut teachers' workload. However, Mr Stockley, head of Landywood primary school near Walsall, has not dropped his objections to Government efforts to promote bursars.

Though the NAHT has also called for 17,000 bursars, he believes that schools - particularly primaries - would prefer more administrators.

"A bursar is a person who manages a budget, but that's my responsibility. If we retain this title, then before long we are going to find ourselves employing people we can't afford to employ, to do a job that we don't really need in school," he said.

The Department for Education and Skills has admitted that headteachers have legitimate concerns. But a spokesman told The TES that while governing bodies - including heads - are legally responsible for schools' budgets, that does not preclude bursars from carrying out or supervising all tasks relating to a school's financial management.

"Bursars have a key role to play in carrying out key support functions and acting as advisers, but they should not be seen as encroaching on statutory responsibilities," he said.

Although there are no plans to move away from the present system of locally determined pay for bursars, the DFES view is that bursars should be members of senior management teams - with salaries to match. That is also the position of the National Bursars' Association (NBA), whose own model job description suggests that bursars should, for example, "be responsible for personnel matters relating to all staff" and "give advice to governors on assessment of salaries".

"If the bursar isn't on the senior management team, you have to question the running of the school," said NBA chairman Bill Simmonds. "The person who is trying to control the finance should be there when people are discussing how to spend it."

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