Staff and budgets top list of heads' worries
As a new term begins in 2008, heads are already worrying about money and staffing.
But fears of inspectors calling seem to have lessened as heads, particularly in primaries, are less likely to name Ofsted as a major concern.
A survey of 1,200 heads by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) found that primary heads cited budget levels as top of their list of worries.
But staffing overtook budgets because of difficulties with recruitment, according to the 854 secondary heads responding to the annual survey of trends in education.
And in spite of the Government's schools building programme, grotty classrooms, out-of-date labs and classes in prefabs are major bugbears for heads.
This September schools will be expected to start the new diplomas which Ed Balls, Children, Schools and Families Secretary, has called "the qualification of choice". More than half (51 per cent) said they were prepared to some extent for the exam. This figures contrasts with an ICM poll for the Guardian, which this week suggested that more than a third of secondary heads had not entered into a consortium of schools, colleges, business and other organisations to deliver the diplomas. The NFER found that 67 per cent had been involved in a consortium bid.
Some heads were less certain. Less than a fifth suggested they were fully prepared for the diplomas, with more than a quarter saying they were either prepared to "a small extent" or not at all. And many children in care are still not being properly catered for: the survey found that only 59 per cent of primaries and 67 per cent of secondaries had agreed policies.
More than 80 per cent of primary and secondary heads were positive about the Government's introduction of three-year budgets, with more than half saying it would help medium- and long-term planning.
The early years foundation framework, which is to be introduced from September, received a lukewarm response from primary heads, with less than a quarter saying they thought it would have a positive impact.
However, they rated their links with early years providers, with two-thirds saying they were excellent or good and only 6 per cent describing them as poor. The survey confirmed The TES's report last year that September-only admissions were becoming the norm, leading to more children starting school aged four.
It found that two-thirds of primaries operated a single date of entry, usually September, a fifth operated two-term entry, usually the spring and autumn terms, with just a small minority using three terms.
More than a fifth of primaries said the number of entry dates had decreased in the past five years. The survey suggests primaries are more likely than secondaries to use a variety of means to try to involve parents in school life: one of ministers' key policy aims.
The biggest gulf was in parental involvement in the classroom, which took place in 92 per cent of primaries and just 12 per cent of secondary schools.
HEADS' BIGGEST CONCERNS
(2006 figures in brackets)
Staffing: 63% of heads (60)
Budgets: 54% (63)
Buildings: 51% (45)
Pupil behaviour: 41% (47)
Inspection: 24% (34)
Budgets: 53% (70)
Staffing: 50% (53)
Buildings: 38% (35)
Inspections: 37% (50)
Pupil attainment on entry to school: 32% (29)
MAKING ENDS MEET CAUSES HEADACHES
Funding is David Baker's biggest concern. The head of Anthony Gell School in Wirksworth, near Matlock in Derbyshire, is appreciative of the bigger budgets that the Government has delivered to schools.
But he fears the belt-tightening that will come with smaller increases over the next few years will be exacerbated by a series of extra costs.
First there is the expense of introducing the new 14-19 diplomas and a more personalised curriculum in a rural school with just 670 pupils.
"There are going to be transport issues with pupils going to different schools and colleges for different lessons," he said. "Our nearest two colleges are 15 miles away, which means we are spending quite a lot of money on personalising our key stage 4 curriculum already."
When the school's minibus costs already run to pound;6,000 a year it is easy to see why.
Then there are other factors that all secondaries, rural and urban, have to face - such as the exploding cost of examination fees with the modularisation of A-levels and GCSEs.
Mr Baker also worries about gas and electricity costs that have "risen out of all recognition to our resources in the budget".
Andree Keddle, head of Abbey Hulton Primary in Stoke-on-Trent, also said her biggest worry was her budget.
While recognising funding increases and the fact that her local authority passes most of them on, she said: "There is still never enough money. I can see what needs to be done in the school, but there is not always the means to do it."
Having one of the most deprived intakes in the country does not help. Mrs Keddle finds her school needs to compensate for what many pupils do not have at home, but that funding distribution does not recognise this sufficiently. Her intake also tends to have language problems - her second major concern.
On the positive side, she agrees with the NFER survey's finding that heads think School Improvement Partners (SIPs) are a good thing. Introduced to streamline communication with local and central government by giving schools a single point of contact, the poll found that at least two-thirds of heads in both sectors said they had contributed to school improvement. Mrs Keddle has seen both sides because she spends around 10 days as a SIP for two other local primaries while dealing with her own partner at Abbey Hulton.
"Having a SIP gives you an opportunity to work with somebody who can gain a real depth of knowledge about your particular school," she said.
She praised the training that had been introduced by government, allowing partners to build up their knowledge about a school in a thorough and logical way.