Heads angry at 'bail-out' of overspend schools

Steve DownesSchools across Norfolk are to lose out to the tune of �500,000 to 'bail out' two high schools that have overspent by �1.5mSteve Downes

By STEVE DOWNES, Education correspondent

Schools across Norfolk are to lose out to the tune of �500,000 to 'bail out' two high schools that have overspent by �1.5m between them.

Anger has been voiced by headteachers about the county council's plan to raid the cash pot for some 450 schools to stop Oriel High at Gorleston and Hamond's High, Swaffham, going under.

The same could happen in the next two years to fill the financial black hole that has led to the council taking away Oriel's and Hamond's' right to manage their own accounts.

At Thursday's children's services overview and scrutiny panel, councillors were told head teachers who sat on the Norfolk Schools Forum were unhappy.

Jo Pedlow, head of Toftwood Infants School and a Forum member, told the Evening News: 'Nobody wants children to suffer at the two schools. We are keen 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.'

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Fellow Forum member Martin White, head of Drayton Junior, said: 'There was a rather heated discussion. If you bail out individual schools it has an impact on all the rest who have done their job properly.'

He said the situation arose a few years ago when The Hewett in Norwich had a large deficit. He said: 'The discussion at the time was that it shouldn't happen again, but it has.'

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

Hamond's headteacher Yvonne Srodzinski has been suspended since April pending an investigation and Stuart Bailey is leading the school in her absence.

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

Deputy director of Norfolk children's services Fred Corbett said he expected the financial probes at the schools to end 'in the next few weeks', adding they were now 'living within their budgets'.

At the panel on Thursday, Paul Fisher, assistant director of children's services, said 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.'

Naomi Palmer, at Oriel High, said: '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 well-being have remained paramount.

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