Headteacher takes £8,000 pay cut to save school jobs

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The Independent Online

The headteachers of a Norfolk village school has put himself on a four-day week and taken a pay cut of £8,000 to save five staff jobs that were threatened by the deepening school budget crisis.

John Nicholls, of Buxton Primary School near Norwich, says that he was left with no other option but to use his own salary to pay the wages of five classroom assistants after his school of 145 pupils was left with a £43,000 budget shortfall.

Mr Nicholls is the second headteacher this week to take drastic action to balance his school's budget. Edenham High School in Croydon, south London, sent 720 pupils home for an afternoon because it could no longer afford to pay for supply staff to teach them.

In the latest case, Mr Nicholls has spent every Monday since the Easter holidays at home and reduced his annual £40,000 salary to £32,000. Once rises in national insurance and pension contributions have been taken into account, this will save the school £10,000 a year and prevent five of the school's six classroom assistants being made redundant.

Mr Nicholls said: "First of all, when I looked at the budget, I thought I had got the figures wrong, and then we talked to other schools and realised they were in a similar situation.

"It's not an ideal situation in terms of teaching standards in school as they are, but it's the best option. If we get a budget like this year again, there will be a lot of schools that will go to the wall. We won't be one of them, but it will be close."

Luckily, the school had £22,000 in reserves to fund an expected reduction in funding this year that was caused by a drop in pupil numbers. The remaining shortfall has been made up by all the teaching assistants agreeing to reduce their hours.

Despite a £2.7bn increase in funding this year, schools across the country face budget shortfalls and fear they will have to make teachers redundant. This is because of changes in the way the Government distributes money to councils and a £2.45bn increase in school costs.

Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, has repeatedly blamed local education authorities for the problems, saying that many councils have not passed on the full government increases to schools.

Earlier this week, he rejected the findings of a survey that suggested there would be 3,000 teacher redundancies in England, including 92 in Norfolk, because of funding problems.

But Norfolk County Council says that it has given schools £3.1m more than the Government originally expected. It argues that it initially shared an extra £1.5m between Norfolk schools but received a further £1.6m from the Government after ministers acknowledged the severe problems facing the county's schools.

Alec Byrne, a councillor and Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for education, said: "We have allocated everything we can to schools. The school funding problem is a national problem that we are caught up in."