Education Philippa Toomey
6 Tm ere's a hole in y budget" is the song we have all been singing this week. It's hard to discover why we should suddenly have found ourselves in this hole. On looking into itS causes, the rise in pay for teachers, the increase in money for pensions, and the rise in National Insurance all contribute to costs which outweigh the funds supplied.
Someone has blundered. Blame is spread all around. Charles Clarke rushed in (most unwisely I thought) and accused local councils and their education authorities of hanging onto the cash and not, in the horrible new phrase. "passporting" it on to their schools. Screams of rage from local councils, all of whom, hand on their non-existent hearts, swore that it was not true.
It seems, on the face of it, that an underestimate of some considerable proportion has been made. The odd thing is that not all schools have been affected. An informant of mine who knows a great deal about what goes on in I xxidon schools says that a lot of them are quite happy. But what about the rest of us?
Our primary school has additional costs, like the rest of us. but the head said, after his initial feeling that for the first time the whole budget would be taken up by salaries of the staff, has managed to twitch the money available so that we can just cope this year. We have been very fortunate in our dealings with the Education Action Zone (EAZ) which has been genemus and provided us with, for example, an interactive whiteboard, which is, like the legendary fountain pen, a boon and a blessing. The EAZ cannot, unfortunately, do anything about staff salaries, but is strictly for things, courses, short-term measures. The EAZ is, itself, shortly to be amalgamated with yet another scheme. But it will be a standstill year.
The secondary school has bigger problems. The gap in the budget seems to be about £300,000. We have always been very prudent, never in deficit, always in a certain amount of surplus, ear-marked for projects in the coming year. There was a time when, if you did not spend all your money in the financial year. it vanished, like fairy gold, and you got less the following year. on the peculiar grounds that you obviously didn't need it. Now we can save up for larger projects (showers in the gym, tor example).
Schools have had to do the equivalent of searching down the back of the sofa and going through every coat pocket, and breaking open the childrens' piggy banks. If we do not fill two teaching posts, if we shift this and that to and fro, if we do not embark on redecorations, we can just about do it.
This is, of course, fine, unless the boiler bursts, the roof needs repairing, there is a flu epidemic in the spring term, requiring expensive supply staff (£100 a day, or more). The worst would be a long-term illness — we once had two and this has the prospect of costing more than £100,000 a year.
So we will be hoping for the hest But this does not let the DfES off the hook. John Prescott has set up a task force which will report on the situation in six weeks time — just as we are all breaking up for the summer holiday. Some schools have engaged in publicity stunts, sending the children home early, and so on. We need some hard talking with Charles Clarke, and a realistic attitude to funding if we do not, like the woman in the song with the hole in the bucket, find ourselves left in exactly the same position as we were in the beginning.