Head forges success from sparse budget

14th November 2008 at 00:00
He can only dream of the heights his school could reach with funding that matched England's schools

His GCSE cohort achieved better grades in 2007 than a similar school in England that was Pounds 400 per pupil richer.

But Alan Tootill, head of 930-pupil Penyrheol Comprehensive School in Swansea, can only dream of the heights his school could reach with more cash.

After receiving a "disappointing" four-year budget settlement from his local authority earlier this year, Mr Tootill contacted Westfield Community School in Yeovil, Somerset - the 11-16 school where he started his teaching career - and asked for their budget details.

According to Mr Tootill, there is Pounds 400,000 more in their budget for 2008-09, almost Pounds 400 per pupil extra. It was hard to take for Mr Tootill, who has a Pounds 34,000 budget deficit and has to think twice before treating all his staff to a ham and chips lunch.

Westfield Community, a science specialist, boasts Pounds 1.9 million investment over the last two years, with state-of-the-art science laboratories, six new classrooms, conference facilities and a new library in its prospectus. Mr Tootill is also looking forward to the luxury of a new school building, the result of an arson attack that destroyed two-thirds of the school in March, 2006, and an insurance policy. He says his staff and pupils have been forced to work in makeshift accommodation as the new building is completed, but they have come out on top.

In 2007, 54 per cent of his GCSE pupils achieved 5 A*-C grades or their vocational equivalents, compared to 47 per cent at Westfield Community.

Mr Tootill believes his pupils are not disadvantaged, but held back.

For 200910 he will be allocated Pounds 3,609,453 in his budget. A predicted 38 less pupils by 201213 means he will have Pounds 12,537 less to play with and the settlement takes no account of rising inflation.

He says he can only "salivate" at the opportunities he could afford his pupils with more money; subsidising trips abroad and making international connections.

He also regrets not being able to find a spare few hundred pounds for an after-school literacy club that had to be dropped this year after grant funding was pulled.

But the first thing he would do is bring his teaching staff up to their recommended levels. He should have two more full-time teachers, but relies on supply teachers.

Mr Tootill would also give his school grounds some "tender loving care", and he is especially critical of the "pathetic" Pounds 10,000 he has left for school maintenance.

He also resents the refusal of his local authority to tear down a rotting old annexe not destroyed by fire and build a new one. He believes staff and pupils teach and work in unacceptable conditions.

"So many school buildings are falling apart in Wales, because there is nothing left after paying for salaries and resources," he says.

Then there is the demand of the 14-19 learning pathways, for which he is given Pounds 55,000 over two years for skills-led learning pathways. He is a fan, but says it is nowhere near well-funded enough.

Mr Tootill would also like to employ five pastoral assistants for head year, but realises it is not possible. He has had to cut one cover assistant post this term.

Estyn rated the leadership and management of Penyrheol Comprehensive a grade 1 - the highest possible following an inspection shortly after the fire.

Mr Tootill is keen to stress that with the right use of resources, there is enough money for books and computers for children in Wales's schools. Unlike most heads TES Cymru has spoken to, the head, who teaches one day a week, says he has enough dedicated headship time, a worklife balance and is not struggling with mountains of paperwork. However, he says a lack of school funding in Wales - or lack of it compared to England - is his real bugbear at his well-managed school.

"I have never been in a position where there have been voluntary redundancies and this is where schools have come a real cropper," he says, "but there have been cutbacks. There is absolutely no slack in my budget and it means teachers and pupils miss out and that is unacceptable."

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