19th October 2007 at 01:00
Q: Pupil numbers at my school have plummeted due to the catchment area being changed. If the school is forced to close, what will happen to our jobs? If we lose them, will we be given compensation? The headteacher is reluctant to discuss such matters with us.

A: The scenario you outline is likely to be played out in many schools over the next few years, as pupil numbers continue to fall. This is the sort of situation where quality leadership is needed.

There may be a reason why your head is reluctant to discuss matters, but such a state cannot go on forever. Certainly, the governing body should have discussed the issue, especially as funding is tied so directly to pupil numbers. All the staff, whether teaching or non-teaching, have a right to know what the governing body has in mind as a way out of the problem.

In the market-driven environment that now exists, the redevelopment of your catchment area should be taken as a wake-up call. If the school is popular, then encouraging parents to select the school, as is their right, may help keep up numbers, but it will be at the cost of reducing numbers at another school. This is what happens when there aren't enough pupils to go around. However, assuming your school has tried that option, then it is up to the governing body and the head - possibly with outside help from the local authority or the diocese, if you are a church school - to manage the transition to a smaller workforce. The normal steps are firstly, avoiding filling any vacancies that arise unless essential, then to call for voluntary redundancies and finally to outline a policy for compulsory redundancies

John Howson is a recruitment analyst and visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University. To ask him a question, email him at

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