I am moved to write about supply cover insurance since two of your three examples (TES, November 14) were drawn from Somerset. As with other local education authorities, we experienced several difficult years for our primaryspecial schools' insurance scheme in which the income from schools was substantially less than the payments to schools, thus causing budget problems. In 1996 we changed the basis of the scheme entirely, and introduced the Supply Mutual Fund.
This new arrangement is mutual in the same sense as building societies; that is, the whole operation is owned by the schools in membership.
Management and administration are carried out by the LEA finance and resources team, but the terms and conditions are set by the members of the fund, operating through an elected board. Of the 229 primary and special schools in Somerset 184 are in membership, and the total turnover in 199697 was about Pounds 1 million.
Schools in membership know that if the fund generates a surplus this will be repaid or offset against future contributions, and that any deficits will be met by themselves in future years. This arrangement encourages a real sense of "all for one and one for all". It is schools "looking around for the best deal" that have caused the problems for both commercial and LEA schemes: all this really means is that these schools want to try to take out more than they pay in.
The Somerset Supply Mutual Fund is self-stabilising and self-policing; schools will not make a profit or a loss in the long term, but are guaranteed emergency cover.
This seems to me an admirable solution, and represents a model we are operating in other areas of the service, including building maintenance, and the Partnership for School Improvement.
Acting chief education officer Somerset County Council County Hall, Taunton