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Governors threaten five-month protest

Governors in Gloucestershire's 260 primary schools are considering stopping work for five months from June 1 as part of a protest over Government under-funding of education.

Already 60 schools have indicated they will do so unless the Government relaxes capping limits on the county and agrees to fund the teachers' pay award in full from Treasury coffers. The education budget in Gloucestershire faces a further Pounds 3 million cut if capping is maintained.

The pressure group Gloucestershire Action for Primary Schools (GAPS) has been formed to co-ordinate action among governors and exchange information on the effect cuts are having on individual schools. A meeting of governors passed the resolution for limited action, and replies from all the schools are awaited.

However, governors face a dilemma. They have no wish to take action that will harm schools, and many of their duties are also a legal requirement.

The action received a lukewarm reception from Simon Goodenough, chair of the National Governors' Council, who said: "With all the worry that schools and heads have and that parents must have with the threats of union action and reductions in teacher numbers, the more governors can do to stick with their schools and give them moral support the better.

"I tend to think that anything that takes them away from helping their school is probably a shame, although at the same time I am always sympathetic to any individual school making the protest it feels it has got to make."

Organisers of the Gloucestershire protest are seeking to exploit the rules concerning governors' appointments, which make them subject to dismissal if they fail to attend a meeting of the governing body within six months.

It is also possible that there will be no return of test scores to the Department for Education, information returns on the budget could also be withheld, and requests for information from the DFE or local education authority could be ignored. The final decisions will be left to individual schools.

Nicola Whitmarsh, a governor at Brockworth primary school and spokeswoman for GAPS, said mass resignations had been considered, but rejected because the LEA would merely have stepped in and implemented the cuts. The LEA would also have intervened if governors failed to set budgets.

"We decided it would be better if governors stayed with their schools even if it means making cuts," she said. "What is particularly galling is that we are unpaid officials who have been given these wide-ranging responsibilities in recent years but not the funds to run the schools properly. We are now in the position of having to do the dirty work for the Government and LEA."

This year at her own 380-pupil school there will be a Pounds 23,000 shortfall on the Pounds 450,000 budget. "This is the fourth year of swingeing cuts and a lot of schools in the county are facing a crisis. Although the campaign has not given up on this year, we are already preparing for next year's battle, " she said.

Many Gloucestershire schools opted to go grant-maintained in a bid to gain some short-term financial respite rather than from ideological motives. But Ms Whitmarsh said some were already starting to feel the strain. "We have had governors from grant-maintained schools in touch. They want to keep a low profile, but are worried about the situation they find themselves in."

Gloucestershire Association of Primary Heads is backing the GAPS action and is working closely with the governors. Indeed, the idea for stopping work was first mooted at a meeting of the heads' association.

Andrew Hume, head at Brockworth primary, said: "There is enormous frustration in schools at the current funding situation and the effect it is having on schools. Staff and governors are determined to do something, but we are not yet ready to consider breaking the law."

Gloucestershire County Council says it will be monitoring the situation to see what effect any governors' action is having on schools.

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