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Labour joins council cuts battle

Clare Dean opens TES reports from schools where the funding crisis means fewer jobs and bigger classes.

More than a third of England's local authorities face cuts in the amount of cash available to schools from central government next year, Labour claimed this week.

It said eight authorities - Sunderland, Stockport, Barnsley, Dudley, West Sussex, Southampton, Brighton and Hove, and Darlington - would get no extra money at all.

On top of that, cash cuts will hit 41 out of 132 LEAs, with grants to inner London authorities slashed by Pounds 20 million and those to LEAs in the North-east by Pounds 4.3m.

Among those authorities hit hardest are Leicester, Manchester, Wandsworth, Wolverhampton, Lambeth, and Hammersmith and Fulham, all of which are facing cuts of more than 5 per cent.

Labour spoke out as heads and governors in Oxfordshire prepared to set deficit budgets, saying any further real-terms cuts were intolerable. David Blunkett, the party's education spokesman, said: "Gillian Shephard's promise of extra money for schools is just another Tory lie. Labour LEAs are doing their utmost to protect school budgets. But this Government has betrayed Britain's children and is trying to con parents.

"We can now see what will really happen in education if the Tories gain a fifth term. Our schools will have higher class sizes, crumbling buildings and a shortage of books and basic equipment."

Conservative and Labour councillors in Oxfordshire have agreed a budget Pounds 6m above the Pounds 339.5m allowed by the Government in a move designed to protect education from severe cuts.

Although the Government has yet to agree the cap-busting budget, governors are now setting budgets that will spend right up to that limit.

Three schools - Larkmead in Abingdon, Henry Box and Wood Green, both in Witney - have already cut the length of the school week in an attempt to balance the books.

Curriculum provision has been reduced in 15 schools, and classes across the county are now 15 per cent larger than in 1992.

At the Cooper School in Bicester, pupils spent Pounds 900 buying GCSE materials, and parents are supplementing capitation by buying books and other necessary items.

Keith McClellan, headteacher and chair of the Oxfordshire Secondary School Headteachers Association, said: "Four years ago I would have been ashamed to have admitted that, but we are now entering a totally different era. I am now getting Pounds 250,000 less each year than I would have got if funding at the 1992 level had continued, and this is in a period when they claim the economy is thriving."

Elsewhere in Oxfordshire, governors claimed that in-service training has been halved or ceased altogether, and that spending on repairs and maintenance had often been halved.

They said there had been widespread general reductions in staff and that in one school, since 1992, the roll had increased by more than 100 yet teachers had been reduced by 12.

"No governor took on this voluntary role to preside at the dismantling of the education service," said the Oxfordshire Governors' Association. "There is a strong feeling that we can no longer stand by and watch this destruction. "

A spokesman for Conservative Central Office said the Government had provided an extra Pounds 875m for schools, colleges and universities for 1997-98. Of that, Pounds 830m was for schools, Pounds 632m of which was channelled through LEAs. "It is up to those authorities to pass the increased provision on to schools.

"If Labour councils spend that money on bureaucracy and it is not directed to the areas it was provided for they can't turn round and say it is the Government's fault. It is not true."

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