Heads' anger at cash for schools

Norfolk headteachers have expressed their anger at the news that they will be given less money for their pupils this year to “bail out” two high schools that racked up a combined overspend of �1.

Norfolk headteachers have expressed their anger at the news that they will be given less money for their pupils this year to “bail out” two high schools that racked up a combined overspend of �1.5m.

The county council is set to take �500,000 out of the cash pot that goes to the 450 schools and share it between Oriel High at Gorleston and Hamond's High at Swaffham to protect them from going under.

Similar action could be taken in the next two years to close the remainder of the financial black hole that has led to the council taking away Oriel and Hamond's' right to manage their own accounts.

The news came as it emerged that experts sent into Hamond's to look into possible financial irregularities found �100,000 in unpaid bills on a desk.

At January 14's children's services overview and scrutiny panel, councillors were told that headteachers who sat on the Norfolk Schools Forum were unhappy.

Children's services director Lisa Christensen said: “Other headteachers want to know why they should bail out a poor performing school.”

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She added: “In a system of 450 schools there will be times when something will get through which we won't pick up. We cannot allow schools to fail and children to suffer because we haven't made appropriate risk provision.”

On Friday, Jo Pedlow, head of Toftwood Infants School and a Norfolk Schools Forum member, said: “Nobody wants any children to suffer at the two schools. But we are keen that lessons are learned and it doesn't happen again. The knock-on effect is that the money that has to go into the two schools is not now going to be available to the rest.”

At the end of the 2008/9 school year, Hamond's High in Swaffham had overspent by �830,245 - 19.8pc of its annual budget. Oriel High at Gorleston overspent by �730,503 - 16.3pc of its annual budget.

Hamond's headteacher Yvonne Srodzinski has been suspended since April while an investigation takes place. County headteacher Stuart Bailey is leading the school in her absence.

Oriel is being led by acting headteacher Naomi Palmer while headteacher Paul Butler recovers from a hit-and-run incident in Essex in February.

Financial investigations are ongoing at the two schools. Deputy director of children's services Fred Corbett said he expected them to be concluded “in the next few weeks”, and said the schools were now “living within their budgets”.

At the panel, Paul Fisher, assistant director of children's services, told councillors about the situation at Hamond's. He said: “Significant expenditure appeared through the books very quickly. In one case, when we went in and took over there was totally unacceptable practice going on, with �100,000 of bills sat on a desk, waiting for the new financial year. The bills were not being accrued in the accounts.

He added that the council was working with the Schools Forum to come up with ways to “reinforce” monitoring of schools.

He said: “It means we need to focus additional resources on schools. There are 450 schools, so it's not straightforward. Local management allows schools to decide where to get services from.”

What the schools say

Stuart Bailey, interim headteacher of Hamond's High: “We have been working closely with the county council to ensure the school is in a secure position as we head towards the new financial year. We have already made significant efficiency savings, which have been built in and we now have a balanced and sustainable budget.

“This has been a very challenging time for the school but we are confident that we have managed to make savings that have had little or no impact on the curriculum or the quality of education we deliver to our students.

“The county council is overseeing the school's budget and I am focusing on ensuring that the school continues to improve and move forward on all aspects relating to providing a high quality education. I would like to thank staff, parents and students for their hard work and support throughout this process.”

Naomi Palmer, acting headteacher of Oriel High, said: “The governors of Oriel requested the removal of financial delegation as a proactive measure in light of last year's budget deficit.

“The financial state of the school is gradually improving and there are firm plans in place to address the deficit. The education of the children and their wellbeing has remained of paramount importance and we have established a rigorous curriculum focused on raising attainment. Early indicators show that results in English and maths are set to rise again this year despite the challenges with which we have been faced.

“Despite a falling roll in the general locality, we do not expect to be faced with similar financial difficulties in the future.”