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Pounds 12m axe brings sackings

Schools in Oxfordshire are facing a Pounds 12 million budget cut, with individual establishments forced to sack up to 10 teachers because of this year's tough local government settlement.

Governors at one school in the the county - whose MPs include two Cabinet members and former education secretary John Patten - have threatened resignation because of the impending cuts.

"We didn't become governors to sack teachers," said Peter Baker, chairman of governors at Wheatley Park secondary in Oxford. "I am not prepared to act as the Government's executioner in this most vital of services. We don't want to resign, we want to run the service, but we just don't think that the service is runnable with the scale of cuts proposed at present."

Oxfordshire, which in previous years has received relatively favourable spending assessments, is at the bottom of Government estimates for local authority funding. Ministers reckon the hung authority should spend Pounds 25.7 million less than it believes it needs.

No decisions have yet been made over cuts, but the music service and out-of-county centres look set to be abolished while schools face reductions in their delegated budgets.

Nicholas Young, head of Wheatley Park, faces a loss of Pounds 130 per pupil, which is equivalent to nearly Pounds 200,000 - around 10 teachers in his staff of 80. "We knew there were going to be cuts, but this is much worse than we expected. It's just great for staff going off on their Christmas holidays. "

Pressure is being put on the county's MPs, who also include Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, and Michael Heseltine, president of the Board of Trade, for the budget to be changed.

Oxfordshire had previously been celebrating its survival under the Local Government Review and the cuts - if necessary - will have to be implemented by April. The authority is hung and political parties will have to decide their priorities for budgets to be finalised by the end of January.

Clive Pallett, president of Oxfordshire's National Association of Head Teachers' branch, warned of rising class sizes and cuts in equipment as well as redundancies.

Mr Pallett, an Oxfordshire head for 12 years and treasurer of the county association of primary heads, feared that primary schools would be the worst affected. His own 380-pupil school - Wheatley - faces a Pounds 38,000 cut. The Government estimated that Pounds 74 million needed to be spent on primary education in Oxfordshire - Pounds 13 million less than county estimates. In the secondary sector, ministers said Pounds 78.5 million should be spent, compared to Pounds 82 million sought.

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