Norfolk heads say: 'No more cuts'

Sarah Brealey The region's headteachers and governors said last night that children's education would suffer as they told schools secretary Ed Balls - “we cannot make any more cuts”.

Sarah Brealey

The region's headteachers and governors said last night that children's education would suffer as they told schools secretary Ed Balls - “we cannot make any more cuts”.

They said Mr Balls' clarion call to find extra savings to ease the pain of a looming financial squeeze was “unrealistic and dishonest” and would have a “profound effect” on standards in classrooms.

One headteacher predicted a return to the bad old days of “worn out” resources, including books and equipment for PE and arts lessons.

Mr Balls, who has pledged to protect the level of investment in schools in future years, said there was a need for improved procurement of services, stronger financial management and better school partnerships to “give taxpayers best value for money”.

The speech, made at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust annual meeting, was ridiculed by school leaders, who said it was “totally unfair”.

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Jeremy Rowe, head of Sir John Leman High at Beccles, said: “We don't waste money and Ed Balls is doing us a disservice by the implication that we do.

“There is real concern about the future of schools. It's tragic that when we have worked so hard and done so much we see some of those advances at risk. If he wants us to cut some corners, then some of those cuts will have a profound effect on standards. It's heartbreaking.”

Tom Samain, head of The Hewett School in Norwich, said: “There are always new efficiencies to be made, but the idea that there are massive savings that would compensate for what looks to be around the corner is a non-starter.”

Philip May, head of Costessey High, was at the meeting where the speech was made.

He said: “It was poor stuff, really. A lot of the savings he was suggesting have been made already by schools. There's not much left that can be done. To ask us to do a general trim is unrealistic and dishonest.”

Mark Cresswell, head of Avenue Junior School in Norwich, said: “A lot of the niceties that schools were planning for will have to be put on hold. At this school there is no room for manoeuvre.

“I think the children will suffer. Things like training for staff will be the first things that go. Resources could get worn out, including sports and arts equipment. It may come down to decisions like whether or not to pay to turn on and service the kiln for pottery lessons.”

Keith Crocker, chairman of governors at Sewell Park College in Norwich, said: “We already run a very tight ship and keep careful control of our budgets.”

When asked if there was any room for further savings, he said: “No, no and no.”

Mr Balls called for a “new drive” for efficiency, and said the government would invest �12m in new 'smart' meters to give schools real-time digital information about their electricity use from January next year - to help children learn about climate change, carbon reduction and at the same time help schools to save money.

He said: “The last 12 years have seen sustained increases in spending on education and as a result school funding is at its highest ever level.

“I am committed to ensuring that this progress continues and that despite tougher times vital frontline services are maintained. Now more than ever we need to ensure we are getting real value for money from our investment. We will only achieve efficiency savings while at the same time continuing to improve school standards and raising levels of achievement by working together.”

Shelagh Hutson, cabinet member for children's services, said: “It makes sense to start planning now for a very different future. We will be speaking with schools in the New Year about how they can make the best of what will certainly be reducing resources.

“Actions like buying equipment, sharing resources and reducing energy bills are already being vigorously pursued in Norfolk schools - and will certainly help a bit.

“While we will do whatever we can to help our schools, the scale of the crisis beyond 2010 is going to be unprecedented in our times and I have a real fear that schools and children's services will be left to make severe cuts in services locally, as the fall out from the banking crisis comes home to roost.”