Teacher Talk

John Caperon is retiring as head teacher of Bennett Memorial Diocesan School in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, after 12 years. Bennett Memorial, a comprehensive, was named as an outstanding school earlier this year by the Chief Inspector of Schools. Mr Caperon is a member of the Secondary Heads Association (SHA)
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The Audit Commission has found that there was no widespread school-funding crisis last year. What do you make of this?

The Audit Commission has found that there was no widespread school-funding crisis last year. What do you make of this?

There would have been a crisis if Charles Clarke hadn't done something. He was right to increase all schools' budgets. In March last year, Clarke addressed the SHA and was visibly shaken by the funding forecasts he was given by heads, mostly from the North and the Midlands. Heads in the south-east, meanwhile, were concerned that the new method of arranging local-government finance was going to be skewed in favour of urban areas and the North. Elements in the Local Government Association said: "We have to lobby hard to make sure we don't have a crisis."

How did your school fare?

Our first forecasts indicated that we would be up to a quarter of a million pounds down on a budget of £4m. We are advised in Kent to budget for a surplus of about two and a half per cent. For 2003/2004 we had to use that money and budget down to zero, so we were about £100,000 under-funded against need. The current year's funding has restored the situation.

The Audit Commission is concerned that some schools have been squirrelling money away. Have you been doing this?

No. It's sound practice not to budget down to zero. We may want to retain some money for unforeseen costs, or to put into savings for capital improvements. On a national scale, it may look as though there are vast sums slopping around in the system, but in properly run schools, the money is there for good and justifiable purposes.

How has school funding changed during your time as a head?

It's more generous, particularly since 1997, which has meant improved salaries for teachers, which I'm very happy about.

How could funding be better managed?

We need to reduce significantly the crazy number of funding streams going to different initiatives. Some are arbitrary and unfair, such as the Leadership Incentive Grant, with its sudden cut-offs between one school and another. There's a big question mark over the effectiveness of Excellence in Cities funding, too. We need a funding solution that is nationally determined. The Government is moving in this direction, which is good.

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