Revolt over school budgets

18th April 1997 at 01:00
Councillors in Fife were set to issue an early challenge yesterday (Thursday) to an incoming government by further delaying the introduction of devolved school management. Fife has still to introduce DSM schemes to three secondaries and only 17 out of 145 primaries are involved.

The council acknowledges it will fail to meet the Scottish Office timetable of having all schools included by next April. It wants a "mixed economy", balancing support from the centre with local decision-making and a "progressive inclusion" of schools over several years. Some schools could continue to be run centrally.

Alec Thomson, Fife's education convener, accepted the council had taken part "grudgingly" but said DSM was now viewed as part of the decentralisation process and would progress steadily.

Fife's foot-dragging would mean a confrontation with ministers should the Conservatives squeeze an election victory. Labour is also determined to press ahead with delegation to schools.

The Scottish Office has ordered councils to hand over 80 per cent of their budgets by next year and Michael Forsyth, the Scottish Secretary, wants schools to control more than 90 per cent of their spending, a percentage already reached by some councils. Mr Forsyth also wants headteachers to control a greater range of functions and budget headings.

Fife says it is impossible to deliver the full system in 1997-98 because there is no money for training, new computers and extra support staff. Any move to quicken the pace could "encounter resistance from headteachers and school boards who do not want to participate in full DSM", Alex McKay, the council's head of education, has advised. Most heads, however, want the system extended, despite teething problems with the council's scheme. There is less backing among heads of small primaries.

An independent report by Strathclyde University found primaries in Fife more positive than secondaries, headteachers and senior management more positive than middle management, considerable differences between schools, higher levels of workload and increased bureaucracy. In some aspects, devolved management had a major positive effect but generally it had little overall effect.

One head, reflecting wider concerns, said the repair system run by the direct works department was "staggeringly inefficient". Another said: "Repairs are the one single aspect of DSM which have proved to be a source of continual frustration and irritation." All heads had instances of inefficient, overcosted and poor work.

Another head told The TES Scotland: "There is a lot of work in organising and distributing money and there is no longer as much money in the system to make it worth while. But none of us would want to go back."

The research also highlights a problem common to some other authorities: "All heads exercised considerable caution in the first year of DSM, leading to a substantial surplus". Heads were now

more careful to avoid surpluses, although they found this difficult while "working in the dark", a reference to the council's flawed computer systems.

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