26th February 1999 at 00:00
How can we raise standards and cut local advisory support? Despite massive protests our LEA has to impose school budget cuts again this year. We have cut all the fat out of our budget already and I assure you our teaching force is the minimum needed to cover the curriculum. We can only make further economies by reducing still further the services we buy from our (excellent) LEA. Things like central teacher recruitment and retention programmes - which are scarcely luxuries - we have already opted out of, even though we know it is short-sighted.

We feel bad about the LEA technology support because as a strong secondary school we can manage, but in a small authority like ours we know it may disappear without us, letting local primary schools down. Now we face cutting out services such as advisory support.

Thank you for raising one of the biggest questions many schools face through FebruaryMarch this year. Opting out of shared positive support for the education process is for me one of the hardest economies to swallow, as such support from good LEAs has been the best value for money. How much better to go in for failure avoidance than, too late, failure exposure.

But the experience is common now. What are its implications for a governing body? First, we must become more efficient at identifying the levers on the school's invisible "control panel" which raise standards by strategic means.

Second, we have to target our support needs much more precisely, using what money we can spare for ad hoc consultancy help either from within the LEA or outside, but only for those curriculum areas which really need it at any time.

After all, the Government has indicated that expenditure on improvement must be concentrated on schools that are causing concern rather than those performing well. The same principle applies within a school. Incidentally, make sure your LEA has also taken this fully on board and is not proposing in its development plan to spend on indiscriminate support as the percentage of funds it retains gets even smaller.

Third, remember that one of the things LEAs also did well was to identify good practice and spread it around. I hope they will still do this, but we as governors can also ensure that we maximise, both among staff in our own school and among similar schools in our area, opportunities to observe and learn from others. Not only in the classroom but also in how we use the staff at our disposal, how we spend our money, what sort of strategic information we collect, how we use middle management, and how we tackle the growing mismatches most schools now experience - because of critical recruitment problems in some subjects - between curriculum needs and available staff expertise. Look especially at whether teacher time is being used to maximum benefit and not on tasks more suited to others.

Teachers naturally oppose any increased spending at their expense on administrative staff at all levels, and at higher levels on site and information management and, perhaps, routine budget management.

If you have teachers who are brilliant at these jobs and don't complain, fine. If you're not sure, it's worth a look.

You may save money by spending more on administration to free teachers to teach.

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