Protest message brings conflict of loyalties

24th February 1995 at 00:00
Banker Steve Nicklin weighed up the possibilities carefully and then admitted: "I couldn't vote to set an illegal budget. I agree we have a message to get across, but I cannot agree with illegal budgets."

Initial options before Mr Nicklin and his fellow governors range from taking their Warwickshire primary Pounds 19,000 into debt to maintain classes of 30, to running classes of 35 mixed-aged teaching groups to balance the books.

Parents of pupils have been pressing for strong action. In just five days, they sent the governing body at Brookhurst Combined School some 50 letters.

With an extra 15 pupils due to start at the Leamington Spa school, ideally the governors would like to increase from 13 to 14 classes.

To do so, however, they would probably have to take out their midday supervisors, cut capitation, repairs and maintenance as well as the number of classroom assistants, and go Pounds 19,000 into debt.

If they stick with their 13 classes, they would be able to keep the classroom helpers and most of their midday supervisors, but they would be Pounds 9,000 short and would have to run two large classes, one of 37 pupils and another of 38.

The only option that would currently balance the books would be moving to 12 classes with 35 children in mixed-age teaching groups. "We couldn't support that," said Iain Black, chair of governors.

The dilemma before Brookhurst's governors is echoed in schools throughout the land.

The 400-pupil school goes into the new financial year with a Pounds 10, 000 deficit, caused by a European Union directive which gives part-timers the same rights as full-time staff.

Salvation may come if the local authority decides to help it out of that particular problem.

Brookhurst is lucky. Its governing body is well equipped to deal with financial conundrums. For apart from Mr Nickell's professional expertise, the chair is a former education finance officer with Coventry council.

Before the introduction of local management of schools, meetings of the governing body took between half-an-hour and an hour. Now they last at least three.

Mr Black estimates that he spends more than 250 hours on governing body duties in a year, apart from meetings with the headteacher and local authority officials.

"The only reason I do is that I get tremendous satisfaction from seeing the children making strides. I didn't come on to the governing body to be a henchman and to conduct national policies for the benefit of the Government. "

Christine Sutcliffe, a parent in her seventh year as a governor, added: "The idea behind LMS is good, but they don't give you the money to get on with the job. What we get left to spend is peanuts and getting rid of people is not the sort of thing you want to do."

Solicitor David Leigh-Hunt, a co-opted governor and a former Conservative councillor, said: "We are enthusiastic for the sake of the children, but when resources are cut so far down to the quick, there must come a time when you become disillusioned."

For the Brookhurst governors, resigning is not an issue. Neither, it would appear, is setting an illegal budget.

Suggestions from the National Association of Head Teachers that schools facing cuts should run up an overdraft have yet to be discussed at Brookhurst. Iain Black said: "Governors will try to keep within budgets, but I can't see how, especially with the capping and spending assessment in Warwickshire."

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