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Quality is the first casualty of cuts

Education cuts, education cuts, education cuts. This is the new mantra for Croydon schools. The council has an pound;8 million deficit and will probably have to shed teachers, support staff and other education workers.

An estimated 150 to 200 teachers' jobs are under threat across the south London borough.

The implications for school leadership teams are wide-ranging. School managers are already being forced to freeze posts. As teachers leave, including assistant heads and deputies, posts are being frozen and the workload distributed to other staff. Some heads are contemplating using teaching assistants to plug the gaps. In one secondary, a head of English has been given the choice next academic year of three classes of 30-plus pupils - or four classes of fewer than 30, with a teaching assistant in charge of one.

In some primary schools teachers are being asked to merge classes. Heads who set deficit budgets last year are being told they cannot do this again.

What are the implications for the hard-won improvements in many of Croydon's schools? The key feature of successful comprehensive schools is well-qualified staff who are familiar with the pupils and work as a team to address their needs. Losing key staff will jeopardise this success. The more needy the children, the greater the expertise required. The cuts will bite hardest with pupils who need a variety of support to succeed.

Huge pressure will be put on senior management teams to remodel the workforce in individual schools. The idea of replacing "expensive" teachers with "cheaper" teaching assistants may seem attractive. As cover supervisors, teaching assistants have an advantage over agency supply teachers because they know the pupils. But this is only because LEAs no longer have their own pool of supply teachers attached to schools.

You cannot ask a teaching assistant to teach the national curriculum in maths, English or science. Only trained graduates have the grounding in these subjects to relate to the child's own knowledge and experience.

Primary teachers and secondary heads of departments would have to do all the planning for teaching assistants, as well as teach - plus run their departments. These are intolerable burdens.

Senior teachers must think of the long-term implications. High-quality, comprehensive education must be a priority.

The author is a senior manager in a London comprehensive

Want to sound off and earn pound;150? Email karen.thornton@tes.co.uk

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