Heads' leaders slam Ed Balls' spending 'own goal'

25th September 2009 at 01:00
School leaders furious over proposals to use pooled resources and federations to reduce costs

Original paper headline: Heads' leaders slam Ed Balls' `own goal' on spending cuts

The perfect motivation for convincing teachers to vote for a change of government was how one heads' leader described the decsion of Ed Balls, Schools Secretary, to cut school spending by slashing the number of senior school staff.

Mr Balls announced on Sunday that the Department for Children, Schools and Families is looking at a number of ways to find about pound;2 billion in savings, including encouraging a third of all schools to become hard federations.

The DCSF previously called on schools to become federations to raise educational standards, but it seems Mr Balls is now looking at it as a potential cost-saving measure.

By creating more federations, schools will be able to pool resources such as administrative staff, utility procurement and, crucially, senior leadership teams, including deputy heads and heads.

The proposals have been set out as a means to "protect frontline staff", but the suggestion that deputy heads and heads are not on the front line has caused outrage among teachers' leaders and unions.

Two weeks ago The TES reported that senior teaching staff, such as deputy heads and heads of department, will be the first to be axed once schools are forced to make redundancies.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of teaching union the NAHT, said he had no input into Mr Balls' announcement despite his claim that he had spoken to the unions.

Mr Brookes said: "(Mr Balls) said he had consulted the social partnership but he just hasn't. We had been talking about how schools could work together but nothing along the lines of getting rid of school leaders. I'm astonished.

"I think it's breathtaking that they talk about getting rid of bureaucrats, but who is creating all the bureaucracy? There is a lot of damage to be repaired. If ever there was motivation to get people to vote for change, this is it. It's an absolute own goal."

In an interview with The TES this week, Barry Sheerman, chair of the children, schools and families select committe, said the idea of cutting school leadership was not "well thought through".

"Someone in Number 10 wants somebody to put their head above the parapet and say, `I'm going to take the first lead and now everybody else has got to do what I've done,'" he said.

"That's politics for you - there's nothing wrong with that. But what I suspect is the basket of measures looks a bit flaky, and if you come up with flaky measures, they're going to be easily knocked aside."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said his union's members were "angry" at the comments.

"School leaders are angry because they feel there has been a failure to recognise the value of school leadership in these current circumstances," he said. "Our schools federate for reasons of improvement, a measure that needs maximum effort. It is not done to reduce numbers of staff."

Mr Balls' camp was quick to allay fears, saying the creation of thousands of federations would not result in 3,000 heads losing their jobs, as widely reported. The type of "bureaucrat" in line to be cut would be "field forces" rather than heads.

But according to Mr Balls' advisers, none of the potential measures announced are set in stone, including the pound;2 billion figure.

Instead, the DCFS was merely looking at areas where savings could be made. Mr Balls said he would look at clawing back surplus school budgets by putting pressure on local authorities to get unspent money back. Teachers should also expect to see pay restraints in the future.

Another area that could be trimmed was the school procurement budget, which currently stands at pound;7.8 billion.

Sources close to Mr Balls said: "The private sector is looking at making 10 per cent savings in its procurement and we think this is something schools can achieve."

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