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Fairer deal for shire

NEXT year, Cambridgeshire headteacher Ron Berry may no longer look at schools a few miles away in Hertfordshire quite so enviously.

His 560-pupil comprehensive, Melbourn village college, has a Hertfordshire postcode but comes under Cambridgeshire for funding, much to his chagrin.

For years, Hertfordshire schools have been given millions of pounds extra to reflect high living costs. But Cambridgeshire got nothing.

Mr Berry calculates that this cost his school pound;150,000 on a pound;1.55 million budget this year. But with Cambridgeshire's allocation set to rise by 7per cent in 2003, compared to 3.2 per cent for Hertfordshire, the funding gap could shrink to pound;93,000.

The figures are very approximate, as they represent only the Government's calculation of what councils should spend, not what they actually do spend. But an extra 7 per cent on Melbourn's budget would mean around an additional pound;100,000 a year.

Mr Berry claims that under-funding has forced him to set a deficit budget for the past four years; have 24 pupils to a class; and insist teachers spend 80 per cent of their time in lessons.

By contrast, at Meridian secondary, just four miles away in Hertfordshire, teachers spend only 75 per cent of their time in lessons, and classes below the sixth form have no more than 22 pupils.

Mr Berry welcomed the news but said Cambridgeshire council still had to decide how much to pass on to Melbourn. He said: "I'm pleased we have received as big an increase as any authority has. But we won't throw any parties until we see what this means at school level."

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