How can our school choose its new status?

9th October 1998 at 01:00
I welcome the news that councils are to give Pounds 1billion to schools (TES, September 25). By November 20, in accordance with the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, the governing body of grant-maintained schools must make a preliminary decision on the category of new status, to be effective from September 1999.

The guide for schools choosing a new status issued by the Department for Education and Employment states that "governors will want to consider the implications of a particular category".

But GM schools have not received sufficient information regarding the new funding formula from April 1999.

How can governors take a preliminary decision without knowing the likely levels of funding?

GM schools are required to submit to the Funding Agency for Schools, by September 20 , a summary income and expenditure account for 19992000. All schools with sound financial management will, at this time, be looking at the forecast financial position for the coming year.

Schools do not, however, have information regarding funding levels from April 1999.

For effective strategic and financial planning it is vital that before schools can take such an important decision regarding their status and plan for 19992000 we must be given the following information:

* changes in funding that may occur with new local management schemes;

* whether funds are going to be top sliced for some services;

* the safety nets in recurrent funding levels;

* any capital formula allocation and special purpose grant funding.

Additional information must also be sought, regarding:

* charitable status of different categories of schools; * whether all categories of schools will be able to reclaim VAT; * the liability of different categories for corporation tax; * land and buildings insurance;

* responsibility for redundancy costs.

Having gained so much independence since attaining GM status, many schools will be concerned that they will not have the resources to enable them to take the responsibility of employer and owner, therefore being given little choice but to opt for community status.

This, for GMschools, would be a retrograde step, given that the majority of local eduction authorities lack the determination to co-ordinate medium term financial with strategic planning.

As a primary head of some 13 years, I believe it would be most refreshing for the Dfee to issue a direction to all LEAs for a "needs-led" funding approach from April 2000.

This would have the benefit of re-directing monies from the secondary sector to the primaries. The Literacy Strategy, Numeracy Project and reduction in infant class sizes could be afforded, planned for and managed by heads and governors rather than "fat-cat" bureaucrats sitting in plush local authority offices.

Simon Webb. Secretary of National Association of Grant Maintained Primary Schools. Brookfield junior school. Swallow Road. Larkfield. Kent

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