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Prime Minister's wrong numbers

As president of the Society of Education Officers I am disappointed by the Prime Minister's repeated allegation that there are two education authority administrators for every three teachers.

In the context of the debate on spending on education these figures are an inaccurate reflection of the true state of affairs in education authorities throughout the country.

Those of us working in local authorities recognise that it is vital that funding should go to schools to support our teachers in ensuring that they are in a position to deliver a quality education. As the local authority administrators, our prime purpose is to secure quality education provision. It might be instructive to consider the staffing structure in my own authority, Tameside.

In January 1995, more than 1,724 teachers were employed in Tameside. Centrally based staffing within the Education Department was 146.7 which is a reduction of 30 posts since 1992. The figures, I believe, speak for themselves. We have less than one "administrator" for every 10 teaching staff.

Moreover, these figures hide some of the realities. Of that 146, 19 are education welfare officers engaged in ensuring the attendance of pupils at schools. Nine colleagues are educational psychologists providing direct support to schools in the assessment and management of pupils with special educational needs.

Eighteen of those staff are field workers delivering youth and community services throughout the borough. The equivalent of three full-time staff are bought back by schools to provide the essential clerking service for our governing bodies. Twelve staff are employed in the inspection and advisory service, the majority of whom are engaged from time to time in conducting inspections of schools on behalf of the Office for Standards in Education.

It seems therefore that, of 146 centrally-based staff, some 60 are engaged in direct support services for the schools or are in education outside the schools sector.

I recognise that, within schools, there are administrative staff providing essential support services to enable the schools to run smoothly. No doubt the Prime Minister has taken these into account in his figures. In addition, there are colleagues providing school meals and providing necessary classroom support to students.

To return to the relationship between the numbers of staff and the budgeting process: I think it is important to point out that since 1992 there has been a reduction of 30 posts within the central support staff. In the same period, we have reduced the number of senior staff in the authority by six, which has resulted in a saving to our budget of almost Pounds 200,000.

This has reduced the council's expenditure in a way which has mitigated the effects on school budgets of capping local government spending. I do not quote these figures with the view that Tameside is in some way particular. I know they could be repeated throughout the country and that in local authorities of all kinds there has been a significant reduction in the cost of the central support services and in the numbers of senior staff engaged in them.

In the case of my own authority, we have recognised a need to reduce staff in order to support the schools' budget. Even so, schools in this authority do not regard themselves as well funded and we are at present engaged with primary and secondary headteachers in analysing the size of the deficit which needs to be solved in order to provide adequate staffing ratios and a sufficient supply of material resources to schools.

We also know that we have repairs and maintenance bills for our buildings which amount to some Pounds 11 million.

The Society of Education Officers regards the budgetary position in local authority schools as exceedingly worrying. Gillian Shephard, the Education Secretary, has admitted that this is a hard budget year.

As schools receive their budgets and governors consider the hard decisions that have to be made, the full reality of the situation will emerge. I do not believe that an understanding of that situation is aided by a misunderstanding of the number of staff employed in the administration of education.

Tony Webster is president of the Society of Education Officers.

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