Spending power moves to the staffroom;Digest

26th June 1998 at 01:00
News that heads are to have greater control over school purse strings was broadly well received when it was announced at the National Association of Head Teachers' annual conference last month.

Under radical Government proposals, heads and governors will be able to set and manage their own budgets. From next April, funding for various services - including building repairs and maintenance, school meals, paying staff, and inspection and advisory services - will switch from councils to schools.

But how would such changes affect primary schools? The NAHT says, first and foremost, there are financial benefits. An estimated pound;600million now spent by local authorities would be handed over to schools. Primaries would certainly benefit from this. Decisions on how best to spend it could be made in the staffroom.

But there have been strong misgivings about delegation. Unison, which represents some 200,000 dinner staff, believes cash-strapped schools would be tempted to make cuts in the kitchen to pay for books. And the National Association of School Masters Union of Women Teachers said local management of schools should be reined in, not rolled out.

The Library Association has warned that school library services would close at a rate of two or three a year with delegation, as schools agonise over what to spend cash on - that leaking roof or a school library service subscription, though Ministers have said that library and music services will stay with the local authority if most heads wish it.

With extra responsibility would come more administration. There are training implications as heads require new business skills, such as how to budget and manage cash flow.

The NAHT says much of the administrative burden schools have faced over local management has come because of the poor quality and irregularity of information coming down from education authorities. It is confident that a school's control of its own budget and streamlined management using information technology could ease that burden.

But small primary schools will feel the weight most of all. "This is one of the big problems for the small schools," admits Sue Nicholson, an NAHT assistant secretary. "They have very little clerical help - that which they have is of the lowest order. They can't afford to pay much.

"I think administration will increase and it's something that's got to be taken into account."

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