Funding blow for Norwich's biggest school

Steve DownesNorwich's biggest high school is set to lose �500,000 over three years as part of a countywide classroom cash squeeze.Steve Downes

Norwich's biggest high school is set to lose �500,000 over three years as part of a countywide classroom cash squeeze.

Thorpe St Andrew School, which has 1,750 students, is expecting its budget to be slashed from �7.5m this year to �7m by 2012/13.

It is among scores of city and county schools that could be forced to lay off teachers and support staff and pare back services after being told to find big savings.

Heads will have to cut 2.5pc from their budgets in 2011/12 and again in 2012/13 because of a combination of falling pupil numbers and reduced real-terms government funding.

Money for the next financial year, which begins on April 1, is up slightly overall - but is an effective cut once inflation is taken into account.

Thorpe St Andrew headteacher Ian Clayton said: 'Our core income is down by 1.5pc in 2010/11, and we've been told to plan in 2.5pc cuts for the following two years.'

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He said the school had 'seen it coming' and had been 'prudent', but predicted it would be in the red to the tune of �60,000 at the end of 2011/12 and �200,000 at the end of 2012/13.

Mr Clayton said: 'Knowing that we were heading for difficult times, we've shaved things off. To get to these figures, we've savaged everything we can from the budget. Even to bring in a �200,000 deficit there is absolutely no spare fat.'

He said the school had avoided making people redundant by not replacing staff when they left, but admitted such a move 'may have to be considered' if the situation did not improve.

Other steps had also been taken - including closing the school uniform shop and switching to an online supplier.

'We've made the savings in order to avoid a last-minute panic, but it's not been without its pain.

'We've worked up to a level of service for the youngsters that we don't want to lose. It's painful, but it's the real world and we have only got a certain budget to work with.'

The straitened times bring to an end 13 years of relative plenty in schools, which funded extra teachers, an army of support staff and billions of pounds of new or refurbished buildings.

There are now worries that looming years of reduced budgets will cancel out the staffing enhancements, with nervous employees fearing the worst.

Tony Hull, head of Costessey Junior on Three Mile Lane, said: 'The budget settlement and projections for the future will result in my two schools losing staff of most grades and hence the provision for pupils, both academic and pastoral, will be lessened. The further impact is an increased load on those who remain and increasingly harder work to make the progress the pupils deserve.'

Rick Stuart-Sheppard, head of Brundall Primary said: 'We are about 10oc down on last year's budget; in part this is due to a falling roll at the school over the past few years and the financial connection to this happening. We anticipate the same sort of fall for the following two years.

'We will be decreasing by a teacher for each of the following two years and then a further 0.5. Learning support assistant hours will also decrease in year two and three, on current indications by about 80 hours per week - it could be more.'

The bad news about the need to make 2.5pc cuts for successive years came at a conference at Carrow Road last week, with 175 heads, governors and school business managers gathering for an emergency briefing on how to 'navigate the choppy waters ahead'.

It was led by Paul Fisher, Norfolk County Council's assistant director of children's services, who said last night: 'There's 12 months to prepare for this so it shouldn't be knee-jerk. Schools have to submit three-year budgets, and we've told them to work on an assumption of a 2.5pc reduction in 2011/12 and in 2012/13.

'The level of schools funding has massively increased in recent years. I can't remember when we last talked about trying to balance the books in this way.'