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Councils link over cuts

Local leaders urge a joint campaign by governors to increase funding.

Local authority leaders have called on school governors to join together to fight against a further round of cuts in education which they claim will be inevitable unless the Government substantially improves funding next April.

Senior figures representing county and district councils throughout England and Wales have given a warning that failure to fund fully next year's teachers' pay award will inevitably lead to job losses, higher class sizes, poorer levels of equipment and cuts to other services.

The councils calculate that the Government needs to inject Pounds 1.3 billion into education next year to undo the damage caused by three consecutive years of cuts in their grants. They claim that Government underfunding this year, which has already led to widespread protest about job losses and rising class sizes, would have resulted in deeper cuts without an extra Pounds 600m provided from provided from cuts in other council services or reserve funds.

The Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, earlier this year indicated that any increase in education spending next year should be within the Government's public-sector spending limit, likely to be around 0.5 per cent.

Tory back-bench MPs who took part in a TES telephone poll last week believe that any pay rise for teachers above the average settlement within the public sector should be financed by local education authorities.

But in a joint statement from the three local authority associations, council leaders warned the Government of the consequences of failing to provide sufficient funds and urged governors to press for more money.

"We believe the prospects for 1996-1997 will be even bleaker unless we all use our best endeavours to persuade Government to provide extra resources," they added.

This week they met the Environment Secretary John Gummer to argue their case for more cash in the run-up to next month's budget.

They estimate that Pounds 18.5bn needs to be spent on education next year - this includes funds for new legislation and the projected 86,000 increase in pupil numbers, which will cost Pounds 270m alone, but nothing for increases for pay or price inflation.

The three associations said all pressures within the service had to be fully provided for in the budget settlement for local authorities.

"If they are not then schools will again be left with inadequate budgets to meet the increased costs and children's education will suffer again," warned the three leaders.

The local authority leaders called on governors to lobby MPs about the implications for schools.

And they said: "Education is not alone. Other local government services: community care, housing, environmental protection and the police face a difficult future too.

"Reductions in support for these could be damaging for education in the long-term; worsening social conditions inevitably place greater demands on schools."

In Suffolk, headteachers this week warned that they may have to reduce the length of the teaching day and cut courses, because of funding difficulties.

The county's education service has been asked to identify a 4 per cent - or Pounds 8.4m - cut in its budget and school funds could be reduced by up to Pounds 5.6m next year.

"All children in all schools will be affected," said county members of the National Association of Head Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association.

They added that a primary school with a budget of Pounds 250,000 this year would be looking at a cut of Pounds 8,250, a middle school with a budget of Pounds 700,000 a cut of Pounds 23,100 and an upper or high school with a Pounds 3m budget a reduction of Pounds 99,000.

All schools will however need to spend more than they have this year simply to maintain the same level of service so the cuts will be even greater, the heads argued.

They added: "Central government's decision not to provide money to cover rising prices and increasing pupil numbers, nor to fund a pay award for a third year in succession, would further reduce the volume and quality of the education service provided in Suffolk."

* Education officials in the Wirral will have to share responsibility for secondary places with the Funding Agency for Schools - as a result of two independent schools opting in to the grant-maintained system.

Grant-maintained status for Upton Hall Convent School and St Anselm's College has pushed the number of secondary pupils in GM schools to more than 10 per cent in the borough.

That is the point at which local authorities have to share responsibility for planning with the FAS, the York-based quango. Upton Hall and St Anselm's were former direct-grant schools that became fully independent when Labour abolished the grant scheme in 1976.

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