SECONDARY schools in the county have been struggling with some of the worst debts in the UK with Buckinghamshire rated fifth poorest for overdrafts in the country.

Figures for the county, which is famed for its grammar school system, show that the average secondary school bank balance was £22,226 in the red last year, with the highest debt being more than £350,000.

The county was one of only six Local Education Authorities in the poorest ten whose schools actually finished with a debt the other four finished in the black according to analysis in a national newpaper this week.

Schools in major debt included the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, the Misbourne School, Great Missenden and Amersham School.

The Wye Valley School in New Road, Bourne End, had a debt of £263,480 last April.

The school hopes to slash this deficit to £100,000 after making two teachers redundant last year and increasing class sizes.

Bursar Andy Holmes said the debt was partly due to a governors' decision five years ago to make class sizes smaller.

He said: "This year we have an increase in pupil numbers especially in the sixth form, and that is one thing that is pulling us back out of it."

Debbie Grimsdale, bursar at one of Bucks' debt-stricken schools last year, The Misbourne School, said much of the debt was inherited by the current team.

She added that after strict budgeting and staff changes, the school expect to knock a massive £328,000 off their debt this year, to finish just £25,500 in the red next month.

Next year they hope to be completely debt-free.

Staff at High Wycombe's Royal Grammar School were unavailable for comment, but parents seemed to be satisfied with the school's performance despite its debt.

Jacqui Litchfield, 38, from Sunnycroft, High Wycombe, has a son in year eight.

She said: "We pay money to the school every month by direct debit, to help with teachers' pay and things like that. I will still do that, as I haven't got any great concerns about how they handle things."

l Continued on page 3 Another mother who did not want to be named, said: "They are constantly having fundraising problems, it has been going on for years.

"But the standard of teaching is pretty good, and I am not worried."

Jane Brown, financial services manager for Bucks County Council, said debts were due to various reasons ranging from long-term sick leave to water leaks.

She added that all secondary schools had recovery plans and were expected to balance their books by March 2007.

Bucks secondary schools in credit included Sir William Borlase Grammar School in Marlow, which had over £190,000 to its name. This is despite the school investing around £1million in a new performing arts centre, which is due to open in a few weeks' time.

Bursar Paul Steward said the school saved up for the centre over a period of years, and fundraised the difference to finance their share of the £3million project.

He said: "Our situation is down to good housekeeping good financial management. Bucks County Council have allowed schools to set a deficit budget, but our school has never done that."

Of other secondary schools' finances, he said: "Sometimes heads and bursars and governors do not work together, some schools have generous supporters. Every school has a unique set of circumstances."

A government grant scheme for schools in difficulty has so far injected £4.2million into Bucks schools in the past two years in exchange for detailed financial plans from the schools to make them save better.

Figures sourced from Buckinghamshire County Council after original report by The Daily Mirror (Figures in brackets mean a deficit)

Highcrest Community School (83,693)
John Hampden Grammar School 149,443
Princes Risborough (82,844)
The Misbourne School (353,689)
Dr Challoner’s High School 302,718
Holmer Green Senior School (48,779)
Cressex Community School (168,650)
Chesham High School (5,860)
The Beaconsfield School (4,832)
Sir William Ramsay School 190,748
The Wye Valley School (263,480)
The Amersham School (197,657)
Chesham Park Community College (35,228)
Wycombe High School 73,783
Dr Challoner’s Grammar School 37,111
Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School 190,406
St Bernard’s Catholic School (23,342)
Beaconsfield High School (134,972)
The Chalfonts Community College 328,080
The Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe (148,391)
Great Marlow School 100,096