Goodwill tapped to pay for essentials

14th February 1997 at 00:00
Diane Spencer visits an inspectors' star primary which banks on generous parents and long hours

Sue Jane, head of Valley End Church of England Infants near Woking, in affluent rural Surrey, depends on parents raising Pounds 10,000 a year for just about everything except salaries. "I'm lucky because I can increase fund-raising for replacing books," she said.

Stephanie Wells, chair of the governors of the 150-pupil school for four to seven-year-olds - one of the chief inspector's star schools - is worried about the pay award. "I don't feel it's a happy situation. We have spent our delegated budget to the penny. We don't have any spare for excellence points.

"I'm very sorry because we have an outstanding group of teachers and an administration officer who works more hours than we pay her. We rely on their goodwill - we can't pay them what they're worth."

Mrs Jane paid tribute to her governors who were "100 per cent supportive, but there is no spare money. Very little is spent other than on salaries."

Mrs Jane's staff of five full-time teachers, two more on a job share, a nursery nurse, a classroom assistant and a special needs assistant, were not impressed with the award. "If you work for the public sector, you accept it," one said, resignedly.

Two teachers are on the bottom of the scale (they qualified recently), two are at the top and the others in the top half. The head and deputy are at the low end of the range, although they did get an increase after their highly favourable Office for Standards in Education report last year.

Ann Watts, the deputy head, said primary schools were the poor relation. "They think anyone can teach the little ones." Louise Oates, who started teaching last September, agreed. "It makes me cross, they think it's easy. You set up sand, water and paint and leave them to it."

Janet Reed, who is at the top of the scale, said she was tired of teacher-bashing. "Most are dedicated. We reckoned recently that we do a 60-hour week."

But morale is high. Everyone was "thrilled to bits" by the OFSTED report and by Valley End's star turn in the chief inspector's annual report. The school was one of 82 primary and middle schools and nurseries named by Chris Woodhead as achieving excellent standards.

"Numbers were dropping when I took over four years ago. We turned it round and now the school is over-subscribed. We've all worked hard to raise standards, " said the head.

Surrey's primary schools could be even worse off under a new common funding formula which adversely affects local authorities with a large number of grant maintained schools. The Government says for every Pounds 1,000 spent on primaries, Pounds 1,350 must go to secondaries. Surrey reckons that its primaries stand to lose Pounds 4 million: another worry for Mrs Jane and her governors. "Surrey is generous to primary schools compared to secondaries so if it happens it will hit us very hard."

All the staff said shortage of cash for supply cover caused the most pressure. They had little non-contact time for curriculum co-ordination. The head teaches two afternoons a week so that a teacher can take time for preparation and planning. But if a teacher is ill, as happened last week, she has to take that class so no one has a break.

Mrs Jane said: "I enjoy teaching - it's important to know what is happening in your school - but I would like money for regular non-contact time."

Meeting the pay award could be a nightmare, she said, "because no way would I want to reduce staffing".

However, a fund-raising offensive is already on the cards. Mrs Jane is rather good at this. She gets support, not only from Friends of Valley End (the parent-teacher association), but from local businesses, including building societies, pubs and restaurants. It helps to have a catchment area encompassing Virginia Water, Chobham and Sunningdale.

"You have to be a two-car family to get here as there's no public transport, " said Mrs Wells. Only a handful of children are on free school meals. "A figure well below local and national norms," noted OFSTED.

When Mrs Jane wanted to reorganise the school into six classes with two parallel age groups, instead of three mixed-age classes, parents raised the necessary Pounds 20,000 for a temporary classroom. They paid for a climbing frame and are raising money to tarmac the pavement outside the main gate. They are also generous with gifts such as spare office furniture or second-hand computers. "We're good at scrounging and getting others to raise money for us."

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