North Moor's case of the the incredible shrinking budget

15th March 1996 at 00:00
When North Moor school became locally managed five years ago, a high proportion of the staff were at the top of the pay scale; a bonus of experience or financial burden - depending on how you look at it. It meant 82 per cent of the first delegated budget went on teaching costs. Two years later, staff turnover and the growth of the school had reduced that to 75 per cent (see figure 1). But it has been creeping up again and important spending on books, equipment and the maintenance of the school's crumbling premises are having to take second place (figure 2).

How has that happened? Even staff recruited at the bottom of the pay scale move inexorably up it. And as the school developed and grew, so did whole-school responsibilities and the upgradings and non-contact time that went with consequent teacher promotions. Local benchmark figures show North Moor staff salaries in 1994 to be 4 per cent above the average for comparable schools in the authority. Class sizes have so far been protected and the pupil-teacher ratio improved by almost 4 per cent last year as a result.

But all of this still does not explain the full extent of the growth in teaching costs as a proportion of the budget, now nearing 79 per cent. With teacher salary settlements not being fully funded, the school has suffered a case of the incredible shrinking budget, though growing pupil numbers have masked the full effect of this.

Staff spending per pupil underlines this (figure 3). The extra intake in 1993 meant North Moor's extra income outweighed the cost of its additional teaching requirement. But in 1995-96, though the total budget and pupils numbers were up again, the funding per child dropped because the statutory teacher salary rises were not fully funded, and because a higher proportion of pupils are in the lower school where the age-weighted pupil units (AWPUs) are smaller. For every Pounds 100 per child the school received in 1991, it received Pounds 123 in 1994 but only Pounds 120 in 1995.

So the teaching costs proportion of the budget are rising both because the school has spent more per child and because it is receiving less per child.

Non-teaching staff costs have risen even faster because the school believes in releasing teachers from routine administration. There is no clear evidence yet of any efficiency saving in North Moor's teaching bill as a result, though there may be other unquantified benefits.

North Moor now wants to increase spending on books, IT and premises to "raise pupil achievement" and "improve the learning environment" in line with its development plan. That means controlling staff costs. But as it grows the school is also halfway through a rolling programme of upgrading heads of department and administration grades - which will add further to the staffing bill.

But teaching costs per pupil at North Moor have already fallen in the past year by 1.7 per cent as the numbers have grown (figure 3). And a forward projection (at present prices and funding levels) of the continuing growth working its way into the high AWPU groups suggests both promotions and higher capitation should be affordable in 1997 - provided, that is, there are no further cuts.

* The name of the school has been changed

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