Headteachers have a difficult enough job without being Council Axe-Wielder

Implementing the Council’s Medium Term Financial Plan in Falkirk’s Schools requires “unprecedented budget savings” with “a direct and significant impact on schools”, and the expectation that: ‘headteachers will make decisions on ...the identification of savings from school budgets."

By Dougie Atkinson, Senior Professional Officer (Scotland)

A TES Scotland article, "Heads told to drive the search for ‘huge’ savings", raises fears that

‘unprecedented’ cuts will mean responsibility for saving money being offloaded on to Scotland's headteachers".

"Fears are emerging that Scottish local authorities will offload responsibility on to headteachers to find “huge” savings in the coming months.

"The concerns stem from one council’s proposals to deal with “unprecedented” budget cuts. Falkirk Council has warned that failure to act urgently could result in compulsory redundancies and reductions to teacher numbers and the number of subjects offered by schools – with heads expected to find savings that avoid the worst-case scenarios.

"The approach by Falkirk Council was described by one school leaders’ body as “clumsy if not cynical”, after a council document suggested it was in line with plans for a national “headteachers’ charter” giving more power to schools.

Despite the charter – which is due to be published soon – envisaging greater responsibility for heads..., It is important to remember that the local authority – and not the school – is and will remain the employer of school staff.”

Implementing the Council’s Medium Term Financial Plan in Falkirk’s Schools states that children’s services in the local authority have been given a savings target of £5.853 million for each of the next five financial years (2019-20 to 2023-24), or £29.265 million in total. This will require “unprecedented budget savings” which “cannot be met without having a direct and significant impact on schools”.

Alarmingly, it advises that the situation has changed in terms of who is responsible for finding such savings:

"Until now the local authority has been responsible for directing the school sector regarding the savings that are required. We are now, however, entering an arena where the [national] ‘Empowering Schools’ and the 'school autonomy' agendas mean that a different approach will be required.

"In particular, the expectation that ‘headteachers will make decisions on the spending within that delegated budget’ requires that a different approach is adopted to the identification of savings from school budgets."

The report warns that “immediate actions must be taken” so that changes can be made in time for the start of the 2019-20 school year in August 2019, otherwise there will be a risk of:

  • compulsory redundancies;
  • reductions in teacher and support staff; and
  • schools being able to offer fewer subjects.

Falkirk heads and other service managers are being asked to consult “stakeholders” by 14 December 2018 on what might be done.

Both the scale of the proposed reductions and the shift in emphasis in the process are alarming. Headteachers have got a difficult enough job running schools without being expected to act as the Council’s cuts axe-wielder.

Voice members in Falkirk who are concerned should contact Voice Scotland as soon as possible.

Potential savings for primary and secondary schools listed in the report:

Primary schools

  • Potential to revise school-staffing arrangements, management structures and allocation of management time.
  • Review allocation of supplies and services and expenditure on external activities.
  • Review allocation of support staffing for supervisory duties – e.g., pre-school start supervision, playground and dining-hall monitoring.
  • Review expenditure on certain curricular provision.

Secondary Schools

  • Potential to revise school staffing arrangements, management structures and allocation of management time.
  • Review allocation of supplies and services and expenditure on external activities.
  • Review allocation of support staffing.
  • Review of Senior Phase: delivery model (including digital learning) and revised curricular offer.
  • Review of the efficiency of the current Broad General Education offer and its sustainability.
  • Potential to reconfigure the school day.
  • Review the efficiency of operating curricular courses in smaller classes.

 

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