4th December 1998 at 00:00
Q. Owing to a miscalculation, we are a fair sum short of what we planned for when we first got our budget. The sum relates to an unpaid bill for a consultancy, but the governors had no means of knowing it was carried over.Now we get blamed for all the economies we have to make. Nothing drastic like redundancy, but all departmental budgets have to be trimmed slightly and, just for the rest of this year, we wiped out a small provision for teachers' tea, coffee and biscuits. The staff are now unco-operative in anything concerning governors.

A. The advice I always give to governors who have had to do something teachers won't like is to explain the problem and solution to staff as soon as possible. I think a chair of governors should ask to speak to the whole staff personally.

Sometimes, of course, there are worse things, not only redundancy but increasing the workload, cutting back supply cover or reinstating an excluded pupil.

It would have been better still to ask the teacher governors to put the problem to staff before the decision was finalised, with options: people are always readier to accept a cut if they've been consulted, even if in the end you have had to favour another option which you think damages the children less. I would imagine we are talking about a few thousand pounds, in what sounds like a biggish secondary school, in which case the trimming of departmental budgets will probably not be too severe.

I wish you could have avoided cutting the teachers' coffee provision. It looks particularly mean to them personally, and they will remember it twice a day for a long time.

Are you sure you have a big enough contingency allowance? It sounds as if you are running your budget too tight if you can't absorb this miscalculation. I also wonder whether there is something else which is upsetting the staff.

Q. Our head intends to put a new teacher in Year 5 and move the existing - very popular - teacher into the parallel Year 6 class (we are a two-form entry school) which is the one with the vacancy and reputed to be difficult. No children will have the same teacher twice, but the parents whose children will have the new teacher straight from college object, and expect us to make a fuss. Is it within our territory?

A. No. The use of available staff and their allocation to classes is well within the head's operational responsibility, and this decision seems particularly uncontroversial. It often makes sense to put a new teacher somewhere other than the vacant class. Teachers move around in the interests of their professional development. Your case doesn't even mean any children will have the same teacher twice; the parents are unreasonable to object to someone they haven't even met. New teachers must start somewhere.

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