Governors' council issues a cry for help

Emma Burstall

Emma Burstall and Frances Rafferty on the acrimony that has marred the organisation of protests against the Government. Many schools will be unable to implement action plans ordered by the Office for Standards in Education this year because of swingeing budget cuts, according to the National Governors' Council, writes Emma Burstall.

Governors expect to have to cut teaching and administrative staff, class support, language assistants, cleaners and caretaking. Some are considering turning away rising fives, reducing subject options, asking parents to fund-raise for essential equipment such as pencils, books, and building maintenance, and to provide voluntary labour for redecoration.

One school says it may have to close during lunchtime, sending children home. Others insist they have already spent their reserves and do not know how they are going to get to the end of the financial year.

Simon Goodenough, NGC chairman, said at the council's first annual general meeting in London last weekend that the results of a survey of 1,200 governing bodies in England and Wales showed many governors were at the end of their tether and were considering setting deficit budgets.

"There is not only deep, genuine worry this year but a deeper concern about more possible cuts next year. How many people are going to want to carry on doing the job of governor and how many people are not going to volunteer in the first place when it's becoming more and more difficult to support education?

"Most schools have not yet set their final budgets. But this is a real cry for help . . . governors are warning that if schools are forced to impose such damaging cuts, the cost of restoring what we might lose will simply become too great."

NGC representatives met Education Secretary Gillian Shepherd on Wednesday to discuss the survey results and ask for full funding of the teachers' pay award.

They are also proposing a follow-up survey in the summer term on actual budgets and cuts and predicted effects of further cuts next year. The NGC also plans to hold a conference and exhibition at the London Arena in Docklands on November 11 to discuss underfunding.

Pat Petch, NGC vice-chair, commented: "We're not crying wolf, we're going to prove what damage has been done. It may be that we need a fundamental review of education to ask: 'What can we afford to provide and how wide can the curriculum be?' " A number of governors were worried about having to take from other services to support education. Sandra Tomlinson, from Sheffield, said: "We're three years down the road of cutting and we don't know where to cut next. If we take any more from other services, large sections of the community are going to become violently opposed to education receiving priority."

Peter Whitmarsh, from Hampshire, added: "We're looking to stop post-16 transport, we've cut adult education grants and recreation has been slashed by 5 per cent. Our whole community is suffering."

* OFSTED inspections are bad for teachers' health. Peter Whitmarsh said a small survey carried out by Hampshire LEA revealed high levels of absenteeism among staff following OFSTED visits.

"One of the problems is the length of notice given to schools before an inspection which increases stress. We need to ask OFSTED to look at ways of reducing stress levels," he commented.

Pat Petch added: "The sense of tension in a school clearly mounts as the time of the inspection draws near. It would help schools to have less time to prepare."

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Emma Burstall

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