September 10, 2008

Delay Over Revealing Schools in the Red

By nino williams

At least nine Swansea schools can't make ends meet - but parents will have to wait to find out if their child's school is among them.

Earlier this summer, Welsh Conservatives revealed 35 schools in South Wales had plunged into the red, including nine within the county of Swansea.

They are believed to include five primary schools and four secondary schools.

It is feared schools with budget problems could be forced to axe staff, or take other cost-cutting measures which might affect pupils' education.

But an appeal to Swansea Council to identify those in deficit has been turned down.

The Post submitted a Freedom of Information request asking which schools had been experiencing difficulty balancing their books.

But the authority has declined to disclose the details - because it says it already had plans to make them public later this year - even though it admitted the information may have changed by the time it is published.

Details of schools' budgets must be published annually, by October 1.

The council points to an exemption which states that, "if at the time the request was made, information is held with a view to publication, then it is exempt from disclosure if it is reasonable that it should not be disclosed until the intended date of publication.

"The authority intends to make this information public within the next three months, and had a clear intention to publish this data at the time the request was made."

The response added that "the information may change prior to publication".

Figures published by Welsh Conservatives in July showed there were 27 primary and eight secondary schools in South Wales in deficit in 2006/07.

This compares with 15 primary and six secondary schools in the region that were in deficit in 2005/06 - a jump of 66 per cent.

Carmarthenshire recorded the greatest number of schools experiencing financial difficulty, with 19 primary and one secondary school declaring a deficit, while in Neath Port Talbot there were three primary and three secondary schools in the red.

The decision not to reveal the information relating to Swansea schools has been criticised by South West Wales Conservative AM Alun Cairns.

He said: "I can't make out why the local authority is refusing to divulge information - it suggests it has something to hide. Parents and teachers have a right to know which schools can't make ends meet."

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