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Parents turn into a fighting force

Worried parents say education in Northumberland is likely to collapse within two years unless the Government produces more money.

The parents, members of a local pressure group, the Northumberland Fairshares Campaign, say that without more cash increasing numbers of teachers will have to go; class sizes will escalate, and schools may be unable to deliver the full national curriculum.

They are calling for a restoration of the money Northumberland lost when the Government changed its method of funding local authorities from the Grant Related Expenditure Assessment (GREA) to the Standard Spending Assessment (SSA). And they want the Government to agree on a maximum class size in England and Wales.

Christine Oliver, a member of Fairshares, said: "The county's education budget has been cut by 12.15 per cent in four years. Many schools have had to slash staff and they are only just managing to cover the curriculum at the moment. Any further cuts and they may have to stop offering certain subjects altogether."

In a report sent to the Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard, the Environment Secretary John Gummer, and local MPs and councillors, the group, launched in 1994, say Northumberland has one of the lowest budgets per pupil in England and twice the average number of primary children in classes of more than 30.

A recent survey conducted by Fairshares of the county's schools found that over four years, 33 per cent saw their budgets rise by less than the rate of inflation, 56 per cent saw a decline in the number of teachers, and 85 per cent saw a worsening of pupil:teacher ratios.

"Further cuts will be disastrous . . . and must inevitably have an effect on student examination performance . . The quality of learning and experience for each individual pupil has diminished," the parents argue.

According to the report, Please sir, we need some more . . . the financial crisis facing schools in Northumberland, in 1990 the county lost Pounds 7 million overnight when the Government replaced GREA with SSA.

The Additional Education Need (AEN) budget was increased at the expense of the basic educational allowance and as few Northumberland children fall into qualifying AEN categories such as speaking English as a second language, the county lost out.

The new formula failed to take account of the fact that Northumberland has a small, scattered population and many little village schools which are expensive to maintain. "The SSA formula discriminates against Northumberland by laying too much emphasis on the south of England and the inner cities," Mrs Oliver maintains.

Northumberland Fairshares Campaign was founded after parents at Wansbeck St Aidan's C of E first school, Morpeth, were told that because of budget cuts one teacher would have to go.

They decided to campaign against further cash reductions and raised Pounds 12,000 to safeguard the teacher's job.

David Sunderland, head of the 180-pupil school, says even so he has had to reduce lunch-play by a quarter of an hour a day to economise on dinner-time supervisors. He has also cut the school's one part-time ancillary worker, and this financial year parents will still have to raise Pounds 6,000 to keep teaching staff.

"At the moment our largest class is 34, but due to fluctuating pupil numbers that may well rise to 35 or more. One teacher will have to cope with a large reception class with help only from cheap, untrained Youth Training students and parents."

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