Heads need freedom to balance the books

17th December 2010 at 00:00

I was encouraged to read of the Education Secretary's plans to review the system of devolved school management (TESS, November 26). This is a plea I have been making for many years. I believe it is essential, not only in order to run schools with financial efficiency, but also to improve their effectiveness and impact in meeting the needs of their learners.

The success of Curriculum for Excellence will depend on the freedom and flexibility given to heads in developing local approaches to curriculum design, learning, teaching and staffing structures.

However, a point which must not be missed is that the benefits deriving from greater devolution of resources are not so much to do with the percentage of the budget which is devolved to schools, but rather what freedom heads are given to use what is devolved, no matter how much is handed over. There is little point in devolving 100 per cent of the budget to schools, then asking them to march in step with local authority rules and regulations.

I have experienced situations in the past in Scotland where radical plans put forward have been looked on favourably by the local authority, but have not proceeded because the view was taken that, if it was a good idea, then all schools needed to have it.

The key point in England is that it is the school and its local governing body which decides how the budget will be used, with the usual accountability frameworks in place to assess the decisions taken by heads. Schools also keep the efficiency savings made, which strengthens the incentive to manage budgets more carefully.

With greater freedom comes more individual responsibility, and this includes the fact that England does not have the annual round of transferring "surplus" staff. Heads are expected to look ahead at staffing requirements and make appointments on the basis of future needs and roll projections, rather than current pressures. Although this can be tough, I believe it is fairer for both the teachers themselves and individual schools.

I hope the Cameron review of devolved management will concentrate on freedoms and accountability, rather than responsibility without the power to make decisions which will improve outcomes for learners.

Neal McGowan, headteacher designate, Dulwich College, Beijing.

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