Wise accountants will help heads
Meetings have started between the Government and the National College for School Leadership, heads' associations and the management consultancy KPMG over guidance they will provide for schools from early next year.
A "varied menu of support and guidance", is expected to range from a website containing advice on budget management to training days and - for those in greatest need of help - one-to-one coaching.
Priority will be given to schools in 49 authorities that the Government says most need financial support.
Details of the guidance have yet to emerge, but the NCSL said reports that "dunce" heads would be made to attend classes run by KPMG accountants were misleading.
Other sources suggested that KPMG's role would primarily be marketing the scheme, although the consultancy is regularly called in by schools and local authorities to provide one-to-one advice.
The NCSL already provides heads and bursars with guidance on budget management as part of its existing training programmes.
A spokeswoman for the college said the guidance was likely to be more detailed than that which is already available with a greater focus on strategic, rather than day-to-day, budget management.
Mike Parkhouse, training and development officer for the National Association of Head Teachers, feared the time-scale for planning and delivering the new guidance was "desperately short".
A key question, he said, was whether heads should be charged for attending training. "It will be an interesting question because schools which most need the training would be those least able to pay for it."
Charles Clarke, Education Secretary, said that guidance was needed because some schools had managed their budgets badly and had not received enough support.
But Mr Parkhouse said the way the initiative was presented would be critical. "If headteachers feel that they are being blamed for the fact the Government did its sums wrong, the future for the training is not bright."
Westborough primary in Southend, Essex, has been visited by KPMG.
Accountants from the company found the school's budget "barely viable" in 1998 and suggested making one of its two deputy heads redundant, which the school did. But Jenny Davies, head, said she had been disappointed by the visit because she had hoped it would lead to her school and others getting more funding. "What would be useful is if the accountants reported back to the Government how underfunded they are," she said.