An Inspector writes

22nd September 1995 at 01:00
We have been inspected and have published our action plan for responding to the key issues identified. Now the LEA has imposed major budget cuts which make impossible some of the most important of the inspection recommendations. Are we liable to legal action?

OFSTED requires governors to publish an action plan, make it available to parents, and report regularly through their annual report on its implementation. It is recognised that this will take time - therefore schools are expected to link the action plan to a realistic timescale.

The requirements for governors to report on progress reflects the fact that the best of plans are prey to unforeseen circumstances, to the vicissitudes of staff movement, economic recession, over-ambitious target-setting and so on.There is normally little cause for disquiet if governors report a modification of timescales or a need to review how outcomes will be achieved.

Your case, however, is more serious since you are claiming in advance that it is now impossible to do what you are publicly committed to. Will you, as a result, be breaking the law?

Where externally imposed budget cuts suddenly reduce resources, then a recasting of plans seems inevitable. However, it would be quite irresponsible to suggest that you might not be legally liable if, because of budget constraints, you neglect recommendations relating to such urgent matters as the physical safety of pupils or curriculum provision defined as essential by law.

I advise that your governors, with your help, need to identify those key issues whose implementation cannot be delayed, whatever the financial circumstances. These would include: * anything relating to the health, safety and general welfare of pupils; * provision for pupils with pronounced educational needs; * areas of curriculum or school management identified as less than satisfactory or likely to be a cause for concern; * the satisfactory provision of the core curriculum, at least, and pupils' achievement in literacy and numeracy; * satisfactory attendance and behaviour.

Financial constraints may be so severe that even such a list of priorities may be beyond your reach. Then it will be for your governors and you to decide what is imperative and feasible. You would be well advised to inform, consult with and seek the advice of OFSTED and your LEA. It will be essential that the governors inform parents of your changed circumstances, the need for modification of the action plan, the form it will take and the strategies being adopted to ensure implementation of deferred issues at a later stage. Above all, governors will need to assure parents that any measures necessary for the health and safety of children will be treated as a matter of priority.

Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Write to him at The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171-782-3200. e-mail: letters@tes1.demon.uk

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