Heads on the warpath

2nd June 2000 at 01:00
'There is a big vision but with the present financial situation we have got, ministers can't deliver'

PROMINENT secondary head teachers have detonated the often-repeated Scottish Executive claim of injecting substantially more money into schools.

With ministers currently devolving the Chancellor's pound;89 million Budget windfall to local authorities, rather than directly to schools, the reality for the majority is still spending below the levels inherited by Labour three years ago, heads insist.

Average-size secondaries are down by up to pound;70,000, a sum equivalent to the salaries of three teachers, pushing up class sizes and limiting curriculum choice.

The shortfall is attributed to continued cuts in core budgets. Excellence Fund injections have made little difference since heads have been unable to deploy them on their own priorities.

Tony Gavin of St Margaret's Academy, Livingston, one of the country's most distinguished head teachers, broke the financial silence ahead of news of an impending pound;40,000 boost to his own budget via Gordon Brown's generosity.

"I am fed up hearing politicians, national and local, saying what they are putting into education because the reality in schools is dire," Mr Gavin told The TES Scotland . "There is a big vision for education but with the present financial system we have got, I do not think they can deliver ."

Last year he was awarded the CBE for services to the improvement of standards in education .

Before this week's news, his budget was down pound;100,000 on 1995 - 96 , a consequence of local government reform and council management of budgets. TheExcellence Fund has brought in pound;23,400 for targeted initiatives, leaving the 1,000-pupil West Lothian secondary pound;70,000 short.

"I have had a serious cut in what I actually manage," Mr Gavin said. "With the attainment and social inclusion agenda, they are making public statements to parents and my community which raises expectations that that there is more money in the system distributed to headteachers. The reality is something quite different and if that applies to me it applies to other schools in the system."

Mr Gavin ha s no control over key aspects such as cleaning, grounds maintenance, water and sewerage, which are run by the local authority. "This is not a budget for attainment or social inclusion but a budget for job preservation," he protested.

His staff development budget is down by 1.6 per cent to just pound;7,147.

Educational supplies are up 6 per cent but "still peanuts".

Mr Gavin said: "We are the third most deprived school in West Lothian, just that the children do not look it. We have got 30 per cent on clothing allowance and 16 - 18 per cent on free lunches."

Moira Niven, West Lothian's head of planning and resources, replied: "Clearly, councils have been under considerable pressure since local government reorganisation and West Lothian is no different. The national increase in spending this year is 3.4 per cent but we have got 2.5 per cent."

The council had to make yearly efficiency savings to pay for increased salaries but had still protected schools' budgets. It, too, had no control over many extra costs, she said.

Brown's bonus, page 7 Leader, page 14

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