Fewer pupils mean tough decisions

14th November 2003 at 00:00
As a headteacher who has just started in a school, I have realised that my roll is likely to fall substantially over the foreseeable future. The drop is greater than I was led to believe and so I am starting to panic.

You have highlighted a problem that is going to affect many of us over the next few years. Falling rolls look like they are going to be a major aspect for many of us to lead and manage over the coming years. Official figures show that the number of pupils in primary schools will fall by 168,000 over the next three years and this will later affect secondaries.

Since it is a general issue there should, ideally, be some advice from your local authority if you are part of one. Local heads who have had to deal with this issue for some time may be a valuable source of ideas. So far it would seem that central government has shown little interest in addressing the issue. So how should we plan for our schools?

First, check the demographics. This is not as easy as just counting the numbers in the local primary schools. Other factors will affect our forecasts - the extent to which we are working in a relatively closed or openly competitive system, the relative popularity of our schools (raising questions about parents'carers' perceptions and our marketing strategies both now and in the future), and new house-building plans in our areas.

However, it is important to try to get a grip on the potential size of the issue.

Budgets will be uppermost in our minds. It is good to approach these systematically. What about our revenue budgets? Our main source of income for state education up to the age of 16 is from local and national government. At present, student numbers drive this, and unless there is a major rethink this will continue for the foreseeable future. So, making certain assumptions about no cuts in real terms and full funding of national statutory initiatives (and there are major issues here) we need to try to analyse the drop in our income.

Local politics come into it in terms of what may happen to a council's willingness and ability to financially support its schools through council tax changes. Other sources of income, such as specialist school money and earned income, also need to be looked at with a view to maximising them.

But this has to be balanced against how it fits in with your values and the time and energy involved in generating additional income.

Schools cannot become dependent on temporary injections of money to sustain relatively permanent infrastructures. Those with sixth forms will need to project income from the Learning and Skills Council that is based on levels of activity and retention rates.

Next, look at possible cuts. Premises-related spending might be a start.

Should you be planning now to take some buildings out of use and make savings on maintaining them? What about books and equipment? An obvious area of ever-rising spending is information and communications technology.

Decisions may have to be made.

Supply and training will need looking at. The number and cost of support and teaching staff are the only areas where substantial savings can be made. Professor Alan Smithers, of Liverpool university, estimates that by 2010 we will need 15 per cent fewer teachers in primary and 12 per cent fewer in secondary schools. Some would hope that the Government would retain teachers and cut class sizes.

Robin Precey has been in education for 31 years, the past 12 as head of Seaford Head community college in East Sussex. He is also consultant on the National College for School Leadership's New Visions programme. Do you have a school leadership or management question? Contact Susan Young at The TES, susan.young@tes.co.uk

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