Agenda

21st February 1997 at 00:00
Joan sallis answers your questions. Q We face a 5 per cent cut in our budget in the coming financial year. Some of us feel very bitter because we are already cut to the bone. We governors feel that we have been conned into volunteering to take the blame for what is not our fault. We have no fairy godmothers and parents can't raise any more.

A I sometimes think it was easier in my young campaigning days because you could vent your feelings - often with hope of success - on the near-at-hand local authority when education was short-changed. It is almost certainly not any longer your authority's fault that the budget has had to be cut yet again. It will be up against the central restrictions on total spending and I expect, like others, it has already cut other services all it can.

I think individual letters to MPs are the most effective protest. The habit of letter-writing has so declined that if MPs get even a handful of letters on the same subject, they accept that it is a big issue.

Do make time to talk as a governing body about the values you share and your priorities for the school. So often we study budgets looking only down the right-hand column for a sum roughly equal to what we have to save. This is the worst possible way to make a decision but I think we have all done it. I once said that we were like motorists who, feeling their brakes failing, look for something cheap to hit, but I know it's not funny any more.

It is a time for innovative thinking, but with your team united on the things which mustn't suffer whatever happens. To most of us, that means the classroom teaching.

But in pursuit of this goal, don't close your minds altogether to the unthinkable as natural opportunities occur. Is your senior management top-heavy? Is there scope for using a higher proportion of support staff to teaching staff when opportunities arise, so that teachers are at least spending all their time teaching? Are you using information technology to best effect? If you have some part-time staff can you share out some trimming of hours to spread the burden?

Then, looking at the secondary curriculum, I often think less harm is done by dropping, a whole less-than-essential activity for a term where the opportunity arises (that is, through postponing a staff replacement in an area of learning which lends itself to a carousel approach) rather than a range of mean across-the board economies.

I assume you have explored all the "fairygodmother" possibilities. But would a local firm sponsor a heart-tugging activity of some conspicious kind? Or give you a new more economical boiler? And have you looked really hard at your water bill?

Probably none of these ideas fit your circumstances, but at least they illustrate the kind of off-beat ideas you look for.

Don't forget to do all you can to make your teachers feel valued during this time since often they interpret undervaluing education as undervaluing their work. Also include them as much in your thinking as you can, and work as openly as possible. At least this takes some of the bitterness from hard decisions.

Q This is a large comprehensive. The head has informed us that he wants an additional (third) deputy and proposes to advertise. Can he do this?

Q Our deputy head in this primary school has been on long sick leave and has now decided to take early retirement. The head has offered the permanent post to the senior teacher in the infants department, starting after Easter. Can she do this?

A No, in both cases. In the first, it is governors who determine the staffing complement: the increase from two to three deputies is not a decision the head can make alone.

In the second, it is simply illegal to fill a permanent deputy post without national advertisement, never mind without consultation. The law says quite clearly that vacancies for heads and deputies must be nationally advertised. An acting appointment is another matter, but even this should be by agreement with governors.

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