Headteachers to be given financial gurus for budgets

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The Independent Online

Weak headteachers will be given their own personal financial gurus to help them balance their books and avoid a repeat of this summer's teacher redundancies.

Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, accused headteachers in some schools of contributing to the crisis by poor management of their budgets.

Mr Clarke was announcing next year's education budget which will mean an average 5.5 per cent rise for schools across the country, compared with an estimated average rise in costs of 3.4 per cent. Every school will be guaranteed a 4 per cent increase per pupil in its budget.

He added the Government had done a deal with the National College for School Leaderships, which offers training for headteachers, that financial consultants KPMG would be sent in to any school facing difficulty with its budget.

"Politically, I wasn't going to go around saying that schools that were complaining about their budgets were being badly managed," he said. However, some undoubtedly had been.

"In fairness to the schools in these positions, did we give enough support to deal with the problems that arose?" he added. "We didn't do enough."

He went on to warn that many primary schoolswould be forced to consider sacking teachers next summer. Ministers expect primary school pupil numbers to fall by 50,000 next year. Teachers' leaders said the Government should use the opportunity of falling school rolls to reduce class sizes - rather than sack teachers.

Under yesterday's deal, the country's 150 local education authorities will receive between 5 per cent and 6.5 per cent extra funding for schools next year. New powers will be taken out to make sure spending on council bureaucracy does not increase at a faster rate than the school budgets.

A £120m emergency fund is to be set up and run by local education authorities to bail out schools in financial hardship. Thousands of schools that went into the red this summer to avoid redundancies will be told they must balance their books by 2006/2007.

The reaction to yesterday's announcement in the House of Commons was a cautious welcome for the extra funding.

However, David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, warned: "The Government is gambling all on a funding deal designed to stave off job losses between now and the general election. There is no guarantee that the attempt to repair the damage caused by this year's funding fiasco will do the trick."

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: "Only when we know what each school will receive will we know how many thousands of schools will suffer."

He said the new budget failed to include enough money for the agreement to reduce teachers' workload, under which a limit of covering classes for absent colleagues of 38 hours per year will be introduced next year.

"There is insufficient money to employ the additional teachers necessary to implement the agreement," he added. "More teaching posts will be lost. More teachers will face redundancy. More pupils will be disadvantaged by classes being taken by unqualified persons."